Poem: FULL MOON LEGACY

by Signature MiMi

A traveler by natural right
Wandering around physical planes
Attempting to connect with this vessel while
               mindfully in the stratosphere
Wondering how the universe came to be             from
               me &
               my fellow beings
Stillness
               Still         a rare instance in this
                               fast-pace
                                              ever-evolving place
                               we call now
Yet
               still         digging deeper into the earth
Searching for answers
               we always had questions for
Truth Seekers
                               Light Seers

Time is opening                             as the
               veil of uncertainty
               suddenly
               seems fluid with
               honest intention and
                                                          white noise

So pure—
               as if our ancestors
               counted on us
                               in this very instant
                               to gravitate towards a
               collective consciousness
                              eagerly
               connecting experience and
               purpose

No need to search for yourself

We have been found together

               On this journey
                             In this life
                                                           With time
                                                           Constantly reminding us that
               WE ARE
               in-deed
               a l i v e


Signature MiMi is a Poetic Being, Creative Expressionista & Community Builder, Linguist, Philosopher & Peace-full Soul. She brings soothing rhythm and resonance to her poems & spoken word offerings. MiMi has been sharing her passions for over 12 years and speaks intuitively about her creative evolutions. In 2014, MiMi released her first project: “Only Poetry Could Have Brought Me Here.” Currently cultivating creative juices and justice in the northeast, MiMi has dedicated her voice and gifts to empowering others, especially youth.
To connect – please visit www.signaturesoul.love. 

Othering and Belonging: An Embodied Spiritual Practice

by john a. powell

Who are we?  Can we live in a world where all life is respected and all human beings are afforded the dignity and respect they deserve?  Can we, as human beings, be humane beings?  Can we create a circle of human concern where all humans are inside the circle and all life is respected?  Can we have a we without a them?  Until recently, we could have answered these questions with a slightly sanguine yes.  At least, this was the ideal we collectively embraced.  Now, recent events may cause us to believe the answer is no and certainly there are those in high places that explicitly reject such  ideals.  

At the beginning of the 20th Century, our world was unambiguously divided.  The public position in the United States was that of white supremacy enforced through Jim Crow.  Pseudo-science was injected into the public discourse, making widespread claims of the ‘genetic inferiority’ of women and people of color; both groups apparently too close to nature.  God and religion were used to explain and justify why some groups of people were better than and more deserving than others.  WEB DuBois famously noted that the problem of the 20th Century was the problem of the color line that  marked the delineation of who was fully human, and who was not.

This line has not been static over time.  In fact, it has been redrawn many times, continuously situating different groups of people on different sides of the line, while creating new groups and new identities in the process.  Some of the groups that were provisionally assigned to the ‘wrong side’ of the line as lesser were later moved to the more desirable side.  The Irish in America come to mind or Catholics.  A move to the apparent ‘right side’ seemed to require two things: the right, (white), performance by members of the less favorable group, and acceptance of this performance by the members of the ‘more favorable’ group.  There was both a process of performance and an application, and a group that could accept or reject such applications.  A more recent expression of continuous mutation of this line or process is to claim that the line no longer exists.  This denial sometimes is framed in terms of color or difference blindness, or an assertion of simple universalism.  These claims have been used to leave the hierarchy largely undisturbed, deny its very existence, and create new stories to justify continued white dominance.

The color line is a metaphor for a boundary; a boundary that separates who belongs from who does not belong.  One response to this is for groups to struggle to be on the right side of the line, or to be inside of a circle where most people are left outside.  All too often, advancement along this line and progression into the circle of human concern have been measured by one’s ability to climb the hierarchical ladder; often at the expense of others, or without any meaningful challenge to the hierarchy itself.  Like all boundaries that distribute identity and worth, there were many challenges and a need to literally and metaphorically police the border.  Crossing the border is not a symmetrical process.  There is a differential not just of position but also power.   It is not surprising that as these lines are drawn to exclude more and more people, and more and more life, we become deeply sick, afraid and isolated. This effort to exclude can be described as an anti-life project. This project  is at the heart of white supremacy and other forms of human stratification. 

This effort to exclude can be described as an anti-life project. This project  is at the heart of white supremacy and other forms of human stratification.

Today, I would rephrase DuBois’ assertion, and declare that the problem of the 21st Century is the problem of othering and belonging.  I rephrase this assertion because race is just one expression of the dehumanizing othering line.  The line can be drawn to exclude the other based on sexual orientation, national origin, religion and so on. What belonging makes explicit is that all humans and all forms of life are worthy and valuable, and belong within the circle of human concern and that value is not based on utilitarian calculus.

What belonging makes explicit is that all humans and all forms of life are worthy and valuable, and belong within the circle of human concern and that value is not based on utilitarian calculus.  

We have many different ways in which we construct our identities, our imaginary selves, and our imaginary others.  While race has played a major role in the construction of identity in the United States and in the West generally, there are other factors as well, such as gender, able body and so on.  While all identities are constructed, how we construct them is profoundly important.  There is often the assertion that we should just not talk about race since it is not real.  This statement hides more than it reveals.  While race as a biological reality may be called into question, racism as a social consequence is very real.  How we engage in the process of developing our own identity, and, how we recognize, fail to recognize, or deny our and others identities and our profound state of interconnectedness and linked fate, will determine to whom we accord human dignity and equality in society.  

As life is interrelated, the effort to cut oneself off from the other has the impact of cutting oneself off from oneself and life itself.  We deny part of ourselves when we deny the other, as the other is indeed a part of us.

 As life is interrelated, the effort to cut oneself off from the other has the impact of cutting oneself off from oneself and life itself.  We deny part of ourselves when we deny the other, as the other is indeed a part of us.  Therefore, the self-made man is not a man nor not a self, because the self is necessarily co-created in relationship with others and the larger environment. White and other forms of supremacy then, is anti-life, anti-spiritual, and counter factual. There’s no healthy side of the color/othering  line.  Slavery and racism injured both the slaver and the enslaved, but not in the same way.  Patriarchy injures and distorts both male and female life, but not in the same way.  These injuries and distortions also occur at the institutional, structural, and cultural levels.  Too often in spiritual communities, there is a failure to see how different groups and institutions are shaped by these processes.  Too often within the spiritual community people are invited to ignore the illusionary world of pain and transcend.  But spirituality must reject the categorical split between the apparent physical and internal world.  

There’s no healthy side of the color/othering  line.  Slavery and racism injured both the slaver and the enslaved, but not in the same way.  Patriarchy injures and distorts both male and female life, but not in the same way.  These injuries and distortions also occur at the institutional, structural, and cultural levels.

As stated before, white supremacy is not simply a claim of the hierarchy of whiteness, it is also a cyclical process that requires the domination and control of all others and all who are seen as less than.  Those who organized around white supremacy are of many variations.  Some have long believed it necessary to educate, civilize and control the other, while some maintain that the other must be contained or destroyed.  Then there are those who believe that other is to be exploited and used by the dominant group.  What all these expressions share is the refusal to fully recognize the apparent other and the failure to challenge the hierarchy.  For example, as slavery moved across the new and old world, the church debated whether Africans had souls and agency that would require human recognition.

We often hear of race being used to divide and conquer.  But, this claim misses the centrality of race.  The very production of race plays a much larger role in and is central to whiteness in its various forms.  The divide assertion ignores that in the United States, the “divide” has been much stronger among those who identify as white.  According to research, whites have been the least likely to make common cause with the other.  This division is already baked into the grounding of whiteness.  Whiteness as an ideology is so bound up with control and domination, that to make common cause calls this very ideology into question.  The very concept of being connected as an equal is deeply disturbing and in conflict with the ‘logic’ and ‘justification’ for white supremacy.

I am writing primarily about the ideology of whiteness because of its formative role in every aspect of Americanism.  Many are likely to find this uncomfortable, and reject it in the name of individualism.  But individuality in the West, and especially the United States, is a highly racialized concept closely associated with whiteness.  This is not simply an abstract notion of individuality.  The way the West conceptualizes individuality is in opposition to others, in separation from all others, and in domination of others.  What many Americans still do not recognize is that the individual is constituted through the social and not in isolation, since the individual is always in relationship to the other.  This relationship is not always healthy, but there is no escape into categorical separation. One may also notice that this myth is not only about separation and being self-made, it is also about invulnerability and independence.  These are some of the central features of the American expression of whiteness.  

Calling whiteness an ideology might suggest a simple cognitive or mental construct or an act of the will, but it is much deeper than this.  Whiteness is about ontological grounding that outruns our conscious control, interest, or will.

Because the ideology of whiteness is so dominant, it is not easily seen.  Instead, it hides under a number of  banners such as individuality, personal responsibility, and universalism.

Because the ideology of whiteness is so dominant, it is not easily seen.  Instead, it hides under a number of  banners such as individuality, personal responsibility, and universalism.  The separate self-made individual myth is already a racialized myth that is most pronounced in the United States.  It is expressed in terms of freedom from constraints as well as freedom from the other with the right to dominate.  This complex nature of whiteness does not mean the ideology cannot be changed or even ended.  The ideology of whiteness is constantly changing and has a social history.  It can and must be changed, but it requires more than just an individual wishing it away or trying to transcend it.

This desire to be self-made shows up in psychology as an expression  of  causa-sui or an  immortality project. Causa-sui can be understood to mean father of producer of oneself.   Even to be dependent on one’s parents is a threat to this unrealistic infantile freedom.   From a psychological perspective, these projects are a reflection of fear of death and connection.  How can one be free while death awaits?  We have tied death to the body while insisting that the mind and the soul do not die, so we must therefore become free of the body.  It takes us back to death and reminds us that we are just animals, part of nature, and limited.  This creates an urge to dissociate from this decaying thing called body that will soon die.  It is not surprising then that women and blacks were also associated with the body, creating both fear and fascination.  Think of how women of all races, and especially blacks, have been linked to sexuality with deep confusion.  Much of white supremacy is strongly tied up with an unhealthy relationship with the body and with death.  Despite this disdain for the body, we need and worship the body, which adds to the creation of a deep ambivalence.  While blacks and women are seen as bodies, whiteness (men) are seen as minds.  This is portrayed in the recent movie, “Get Out”.   

As Eric Foner, David Loy, and others have pointed out, there is an anxiety associated with separation that is extreme in the U.S., with the other being used as a trope.  In the United States, a deep anxiety about the enslaved black other was the foundation from which whiteness developed, including the obsession with independence in opposition to the dependent slave.  There was no consideration of interrelatedness or interdependence.   To take this whiteness away without replacing it, subjects those who implicitly or explicitly have their identities constructed around whiteness, to a kind of ontological anxiety, if not death itself.   The challenge to this fear-based construction cannot be just to transcend it or reject it, but to develop and offer a positive alternative.  Frequently, the question is posed, why would whites give up their privilege?  Giving up one’s privilege or whiteness is a much more complicated process than the question suggests. 

The answer to the question of what would make whites want to give up their privilege, is to gain (or reclaim) their humanity and to be on the side of life.

The answer to the question of what would make whites want to give up their privilege, is to gain (or reclaim) their humanity and to be on the side of life.  The privilege has been, in many ways, overrated.  Above, I suggested that the conditions of anxiety, anomie individualism, and obsession with independence and control, are more likely to be strongly present in those who identify as white.  There are a couple of important caveats to this statement.  First, it is more accurate to say that it is more strongly experienced by those who identify with the ideology of whiteness.  Identity is a social experience and not just, or even primarily, a subjective experience, although it is subjective as well.  While we do have some subjective sense of ourselves this experience comes from an intersubjective understanding and expression that is strongly mediated through structures and situatedness that precede one’s  experience.  To put it differently, what is subjective and internal is already social.  This leads to the second caveat; that identity is more than something that exists within our heads or minds.  Rather, identity is something that is also supported by our environment, as well as the predominant narratives and other cultural expressions to which we are exposed.  Our identities and environments simultaneously inform and help shape each other, and are radically social.  The desire or need to be separate from others has not only put us at war with the other, but also, with our own bodies, our selves and nature. 

Our identities and environments simultaneously inform and help shape each other, and are radically social.  The desire or need to be separate from others has not only put us at war with the other, but also, with our own bodies, our selves and nature.

It would not be possible to maintain whiteness without the structure of whiteness, and the material and cultural capital or conditions associated with whiteness.  Nor is it possible or desirable to try to transcend whiteness with these structures and practices in place.  As I have suggested, those benefits are often contested and in flux, but they must exist and have some shared understanding to do the work of re-creating whiteness, othering, or belonging.  One of the most important psychosocial benefits is to be part of a relatively exclusive white club, even as the club crumbles.  But, this apparent benefit comes with an extremely high cost, both to those who suffer under the ideology of whiteness and those who embrace it.  In part, whiteness means that whites and their associates have priority and dominance over the racial other.  But, the cost suggests their humanity may be more at risk, certainly more than most are aware.  

There was a time in our country where only whites could become naturalized citizens.  For those already here, and particularly blacks, the Supreme Court stated they could never be part of the political community.  Today, with voter suppression and gerrymanding, talk of walls and America (white) first, there continues to be a muffling of the voices of people of color.  For Trump and many of his supporters, non-white votes are necessarily suspect.  Police, with the support of the state, can kill blacks with impunity, because this is easily justified in the minds of many whites that see blacks as scary, animalistic, dangerous and not part of the we.  Toni Morrison noted that it is time to consider what the institution of slavery has done to scar whites.  I would add: without recentralizing whites.  While many people who are considered white may wish to live in a relationship of mutuality and equality, these arrangements will not be stable, concretized or even recognized if the conditions that support and recreate whiteness are not transformed.  

This is also true for other forms of othering, including systems such as gender, ability, and religion, to name a few.  The structure of othering in any given society is likely to take on one or two dominant forms.  These forms will be used for new othering processes and groups.  It is also clear that groups may be subjected to multiple forms of othering at once. 

It should be clear by this point that the ideology and practice of whiteness is not the same issue as people who are categorically or phenotypically white.  Although many that are phenotypically white embrace the ideology of whiteness, some do not.  This does not free them from the other forces in society that reproduce whiteness.  What is less obvious is that the system and ideology of whiteness may be embraced by those who are not categorized as whites, and not just through practices of domination and othering.  People of color that are raised in the United States and in the West, are likely to use the language, culture, and common meanings that are associated with the ideologies of whiteness. Consider the issue of hierarchy as part of the white ideology.  There are a number of responses that groups might make.  One is simply to invert the order.  It is not whites that are the best or at the top of the hierarchy, but blacks or Latinos.  This is just a continuation of the scale of hierarchy, with a re-ordering of who is on top.  Similarly, as whites try to essentialize whiteness, other groups may do the same of their particular group.  Also, groups that are othered may dehumanize other marginalized groups, or even their own group.  Another way to assert hierarchy is through the use of culture or God.  We first try to locate a particular culture, the great books or democracy, and then claim it for one group.  The response is often to insist that my culture has its own great books and of course that my God is more real and better.  Marginalized groups may have less power and agency, but they are not completely devoid of either.  This power and agency is likely to be some distorted form of whiteness even as it challenges whiteness.

There is a flawed assumption that our cultures are completely separate.  But, cultures cannot and do not exist in a vacuum.  This is because cultures, as well as people, are always in process and changing and dynamically interrelated.  For example, within the black community, there is a deep sense of colorism that mimics white sense of beauty and values.  Because of the work on mind science, we know it is not possible to live in a culture and remain untouched by popular influence, and we know this phenomenon cannot be adequately explained by self-hate alone.  Using a different register, what we called white or western culture is already an amalgam of many cultures and continue to include and adapt.  Part of the fear of many who embrace the ideology of whiteness is that the presence of the other will change the so called white culture and indeed it will.  But, the change need not be either exclusionary or scary.  The solution to the ideology of whiteness is not simply changing the other, or crossing the color line.  Rather, it is through radically transforming our understanding of and practice of the self as well as the structures and culture that mediate our access to ourselves. 

Part of the expression of this fear of the other is the fear of the unknown.  There is a deep fear of not knowing.  Western consciousness is predicated on separation, control, and fear.  Those things must be in control of those things that are separate and other.  Their difference and their unknowingness render them a threat.  The West, outside of what is called faith-based religions, is very uncomfortable with not knowing.  Even the faith-based religions avoid the dis-ease of not knowing, by projecting all of their not knowing onto an “all knowing, all powerful God.”  The problem of not knowing and invulnerability is then resolved.  

A self that is separate from the other is in a constant state of anxiety and fear.  To mitigate this fear, the self tries to exercise control, but this is never enough.

A self that is separate from the other is in a constant state of anxiety and fear.  To mitigate this fear, the self tries to exercise control, but this is never enough.  This starts with the separation from the self and the universal God.  It continues as separation from the self and the earth or nature.  Then, as separation from the others and from the soul.  Ultimately, there’s the separation of the self from the mind and the body.  Each of the separations represents a kind of illness.  Part of the theme of this journal is to focus on health and healing.  Healing cannot be fully addressed unless and until each of these separations are addressed.  Even to notice that the separation is an illusion is not enough.  We must develop a set of practices, institutions, stories, and lives where interrelatedness can be explicit and implicitly experienced.

Even to notice that the separation is an illusion is not enough.  We must develop a set of practices, institutions, stories, and lives where interrelatedness can be explicit and implicitly experienced.

This essay is a serious challenge to Western culture, but it is not meant to indicate that nothing good has come from Western civilization or culture, nor am I suggesting that other cultures are necessarily superior.  The strategy to maintain and negotiate health in the society is fraught with problems of anxiety, control, or success running from the hungry ghosts.  It is a constant denying of connection and denying of life and health.  It will be a mistake to assume that all are affected the same, as we are not.

There’s a gradient in the argument with this arrangement.  Where man is more likely to dominate woman, whites are more likely to dominate people of color, and the rich are more likely to dominate the poor.  It should be noted that in this domination and control is the assumption of hierarchy, which impacts us all.  In this way, I’m not suggesting that people who are women or people of color don’t participate in some way in the domination themselves.  One does not gain freedom from this just because one is dominated.  As noticed in the practice of restorative justice, people who are hurt are likely to hurt others.  The ideology of whiteness in various forms extends to those acculturated in a space where whiteness is the norm.  It is in our school, language, religion, and the very air we breathe.  

Iris Young and Susan Fiske describe different gradients of the othering process.  Young writes about the five faces of oppression.  She notes that to be marginalized is even worse than to be exploited.  She asserts that when a population becomes marginalized, they become susceptible to genocide, as they are not seen as needed.  An exploited population is needed, and therefore will not be completely killed off.  During slavery in the United States, there was a rationale for adhering to some level of minimal treatment, as the slaves were needed.  

Susan Fiske and others have developed a different system for understanding the gradients for othering.  In what Fiske refers to as the stereotype content model, she uses two axes, one measuring warmth, and one measuring competence, to develop four quadrants. The highest quadrant represents the people we perceive as high in competence and high in warmth.  We like the people in this category.  We think they are smart, deserving, and we have warmth toward them.  We are less likely to see their status as a threat but with admiration and as earned.  The lowest quadrant represents the people we perceive as low in competence and low in warmth.  We despise people in this category because we see them as neither smart nor likable.  They are undeserving even of our recognition. People in this contemptuous quadrant are seen as having little to no value in society, and are generally not liked by other members.  There are two quadrants in between; one where people are perceived as high in competence but low in warmth, and one where people are perceived as high in warmth but low in competence.  In the former category are people that we are jealous or envious of, but don’t like very much or think of as kind people. E.g., Asians, Jews, and rich people.  In the latter category are people we pity or feel sorry for because we view them as kind, but not very smart or capable.  People in this paternalistic category often include the elderly, housewives and their children, and people with disabilities.

Susan Fiske developed a model to empirically test how different groups of people in our society are viewed in relation to these four quadrants.  Fiske found that the groups in the highest quadrant (high in competence and high in warmth) were the dominant groups in a given society, and the groups in the lowest quadrant (low in competence and low in warmth) were the extreme others.  In the United States, homeless and black returning citizens populate this quadrant.  Tests were conducted with participants hooked up to MRI machines, so that Fiske and others could study the brain activity associated with stimulating each of the four quadrants.  What Fiske and others found was telling.  There are parts of our brain that light up when we see another human.  What Fiske found was that when participants viewed individuals in the contemptuous (low in competence and low in warmth) quadrant, these same parts of the brain did not light up.  In other words, our brains do not register people in this category as fully human.  What’s equally disturbing is that participants viewing this quadrant experienced increased brain activity in the parts of their brain associated with feelings of disgust.  In sum, Fiske’s research shows that at an unconscious, neurological level, our brains literally and figuratively dehumanize certain groups of people. The consequences of these findings are grim: When groups are not seen as fully human, we treat them as less than human.  

…at an unconscious, neurological level, our brains literally and figuratively dehumanize certain groups of people. The consequences of these findings are grim: When groups are not seen as fully human, we treat them as less than human.

The groups of extreme others are injured by this process, but so is the rest of society.  These injuries happen at multiple levels.  We suffer at the individual level and the group level.  We suffer from them at the economic level, the political level, and the ontological or spiritual level.  In thinking about all of these injuries and all of the suffering in our world, it is easy to become overwhelmed.  It is also easy to be invited into a place of lost anger and hate.  But, this is simply a reflection of what is already happening; it is not an answer.  Even when we see some of the suffering, it is easy to misunderstand or fail to see the full picture.  Thomas Frank’s popular book What’s the Matter with Kansas illustrates this point.  Frank notices that Kansans are suffering, but continue to vote against their self-interest.  This misunderstanding is multifaceted.  It is not that folks are voting against their interest, per se.  It is more accurate to suggest they are voting against their economic self-interest.  But, our sense of self is constituted by a number of processes including our political, spiritual, and ontological interests.  While these interests may be affected by our economic interests, our self-interest as a whole cannot be reduced to economic interests alone.  No one asked what the matter was with Mother Teresa for not making as much money as she could have, because we understand her as a spiritual being.  

What I suggest through this article is that whiteness is being defended and it is not just a matter of economic interest or identity.  Frank could have asked a different question, one that some are asking after the election of Trump: “What’s the matter with white people, or more accurately, whiteness?  What many of them say, if we are willing to listen closely enough, is not only concern about the jobs, but they are also concerned about their whiteness.  Who are we in the presence of the other?

The way liberals and spiritual progressives are likely to address this dis-ease with the other is to simply assert that we are all the same.  It should be clear that the intervention or solution to othering is not sameing or a simple universalism, but belonging.

It is not just the ethnic nationalists who are concerned about this question.  There is growing evidence that many liberals and spiritual progressives also struggle with the other in our midst.  The way liberals and spiritual progressives are likely to address this dis-ease with the other is to simply assert that we are all the same.  It should be clear that the intervention or solution to othering is not sameing or a simple universalism, but belonging.  Othering is a process, practice, and worldview that denies our deep interrelation to other forms and expressions of life.  Sameing, like colorblindness, suggests that we are all the same, and is a form of denial and oppression in and of itself.   It would erase others and reduce them to me, as opposed to engaging with others, including the otherness in me and recognizing myself in them.  Belonging recognizes the other without othering.  It also recognizes that our similarities and differences are largely situational, or constantly being reconfigured in part based on our relationship with each other and our struggles to belong. There is no categorical or infinite other; we are in relationship.  But, the different situations that we experience are real and must be engaged with in order to open up to new arising and even new selves.  Just as our selves are co-created, so must our commonality be co-created. 

Othering is a process, practice, and worldview that denies our deep interrelation to other forms and expressions of life.  Sameing, like colorblindness, suggests that we are all the same, and is a form of denial and oppression in and of itself.

Why is being in belonging a struggle?  Part of the reason is that we are born into a society that deeply denies our connection.  In order to connect deeply, or even superficially, we have to be vulnerable.  Vulnerability exposes us to being hurt by others.  Existence is constantly dealing with the need of others and the fear of others.  In a hierarchical society of extreme individualism such as ours, we try to deal with this anxiety or fear by denying a relationship with the other or controlling the other even to the point of making the other me.  We tried to connect with the other only through our agreement at the rational level and on our own terms.  We deny that the other is always part of us and also constituting us in ways we cannot understand or control.  Part of the rejection of programs like social security or the ACA is that they are social.  These programs recognize that we are connected and operationalize this connection.  Whiteness denies this connection, especially across the color line.  There was much more support for these programs when they were limited to whites. 

This fear of the other is not just reflected in our capitalist society; it is also reflected in our religions, spiritual communities, and teachings.  One of the  most extreme examples of fear and separation is found in Protestantism.  Of course, one could also assert that we see an expression of this in most major religions.  But, it is in Protestantism that we explicitly claimed a private space with God that allows us to disregard and to try to avoid engagement with the other, unless it is completely on our terms.  The privacy that provided this important foundation of Protestantism freed the worshiper from the community, but also weakened the community bond.   This puts us in destructive and exploitive relationships with others.  In any number of other religious practices, there is also an effort to become detached, invulnerable and transcendent.  Consider the individualist and often private practice of Buddhism in the West.  It is always in danger of being detached and indifferent to the suffering and situatedness of people in the world.   These claims reject the insight of interrelatedness and co-creation.  Sometimes, we do this by transcending the world.  And, in transcending the world our relationship with the world becomes tenuous and less than.  After all, it is not real.  Those still hurting are not fully enlightened.  

I am aware that there are expressions in all religions that recognize our deep connection.  Christianity asserts that we are indeed our brother’s keeper, and embraces the lesson of the good Samaritan.  When asked wasn’t the Samaritan afraid of what would happen to him if he stopped to help the stranger, he responded he was afraid of what would happen to himself if he did not stop.  This lesson of collective suffering and that the stranger among also is the embodiment of Christ is not reflected in the way white supremacy moves in the world.  But, even the religious or spiritual practitioner that is likely to stop and help, too often does so only from a safe distance of invulnerability and transcendence, and with a reluctance to engage structures.  There may be a willingness to risk the body because the body is not real and we will be ultimately rewarded.  But, this move to transcendence is similar to the way we deal with the unknown.  This is likely to leave us a ‘safe’ distance from each other, and this avoidance is something we must challenge. 

There are many who may reject religion and may insist that there’s nothing to transcend; that we live in the world, but we become involved by controlling the world.  But, both controlling the world and transcending the world create distance and problems.  Both ignore the reality of being spiritual animals.  We have to hold onto both aspects of ourselves and our deep relationship with each other and with life and our environment in order to be whole.  This presents a space of not only transcendence, nor of control of simply accepting what is; instead, it requires deep engagement without the comfort of knowing or the safety of invulnerability.  This insight requires that we recognize that the physical and material world matters.  Our physicality influences us, even though it does not determine us.  We are always more than our physicality and our experience, but neither are simple illusions to be denied.  At the same time, nature is not just for our use to be bent to our will.  It is only in this state of wholeness that we can really be healthy.  From this perspective, white supremacy, whether it is the white dominant group, corporate America, or the group that is being marginalized by whites, is antithetical to spirituality and health.

We’re experiencing increased anxiety as the world becomes more diverse.  In some sense, this is intuitive.  If we are frightened by the other, and the other exists closer and closer to us and exerts their own sense of agency, anxiety will ensue.  People can only process so much change over short periods of time, and we don’t process change alone.  We process, in part, through the stories or narratives in our culture, and through the leaders that we associate with.  Increased diversity, as suggested by Robert Putnam, is most likely to produce increased anxiety, at least in the short term, when the diversity is along important areas of society such as race or religion.  Putnam’s early work focused on Europe, but the anxiety from demographic change is equally true of the United States.  It is critical to note that anxiety is not the same a nationalism.  Anxiety is unsettled energy that can move in different directions.  It is how we make meaning of the anxiety that determines if it will be positive or negative.  The right-wing nationalists and Trump have given the growing diversity a very negative and threatening spin.  Diversity is seen as not just taking jobs but taking the very soul of America.  The soul of America meaning whiteness and the ideology associated with it.  What the left and the progressive spiritual community is likely to do, is avoid talking about identity, except in the most superficial manner, to avoid what is labeled identity politics.  This may make it difficult to address the reality that many young men and women in America are neglected or even killed by the state, not simply because they are people, but because they are the other (black).  The confusion on the left in addressing the Black Lives Matter Movement is an example of this.

I should hasten to add that identity politics in and of themselves are not a problem.  In fact, most politics are identity politics, in that they focus on the needs and interests and concerns of a particular group, however the group is defined.  Focusing on identity becomes a problem if it is done in a way that denies the interests and values of other groups.  Referring again to Putnam, he talks about bridging and bonding.  Bridging is basically where one group relates to another group based on empathetic space and shared suffering.  At a deep level bridging not only creates understanding and caring, it creates new identities and groups.  To share suffering is to have compassion.  Bonding, while it may sound more positive than not, is where one closes oneself off from other groups, or only has love for one’s own group.  It can be thought of as an extreme form of homophilous behavior.

Putnam is clear that it is possible for both bridging and bonding to happen at the same time.  A slightly different version of this phenomenon named by Putnam, is called bridging and breaking.  Again, bridging suggests the connecting with the other through empathetic story and space and a shared future.  But, breaking, unlike bonding, is where we explicitly or implicitly define the other as somehow a threat to our existence, or as bad or evil.  An example of breaking is Trump talking about Mexicans coming to rape our women, take our jobs, and sell drugs.  Breaking is the most pernicious form of othering and leads not just to walls, but if unabated, can lead to genocide.

In sum, it is not so-called identity politics that is the problem, it is the practice of breaking that is the problem.  And, while breaking happens on the left and right, it is now coming from the right through the state itself.

In sum, it is not so-called identity politics that is the problem, it is the practice of breaking that is the problem.  And, while breaking happens on the left and right, it is now coming from the right through the state itself.

How do we bridge?  The heart of bridging is based on our willingness to engage and share in each other’s suffering,  failures and aspirations.  It requires our willingness to recognize the similarities and the differences of the other with space and empathy.  To suffer with, is compassion.  To connect with the failures and suffering of the other does not mean we endorse or accept their story.  Rather, it means that we accept their humanness in all its forms.  We all need to be recognized and heard.  This is not the same as getting everything we want or even being right.  We bridge when we can recognize that we are all human and worthy of care even as we are situated differently within structures and the environment.  Most of our identity difference has been traced to our situatedness.  We connect by sharing our stories of respective situatedness and suffering with each other.  We connect by sharing our hopes, goals, values, and aspirations with each other, and build bridges when we identify and move towards our shared goals, in a manner that acknowledges our respective suffering.  Common ground is not just found, it is co-constructed.   If we cannot accept our respective humanity, this effort will be undermined.

Our very way of evaluating what is good and what is right must be part of the inquiry.  This is not suggesting that we are without values or judgment, but that we are willing to engage with the possibility of change.   This is not just an exercise of our interest, but also an exposure of us.  One of the ways that we try to give comfort in dealing with anxiety of the other is to suggest that no changes are forthcoming.  This is a false comfort.  Change is inevitable and it will be accelerated by the presence of the apparent other.  But, change does not have to be bad.  If done well, change will also give us a new self.  In doing this, we must protect marginalized groups from new injuries.  There must be at least a provisional understanding that all people are of value.  There must be the conditions for groups to belong, and the reduced risk of injury or alienation.  In other words, the price of the ticket must not be too high.

This brings up the issue of bridging in the context of supremacy.  What do we do with the supremacy that denies our humanity and can destroy our life and other life around us?  Our very humanity is framed as the cause of their suffering.  Leading up to the civil war, there were many whites that argued that their limited “right” to enslave was a violation of their freedom and humanity.  The liberal assertion that we can virtually say whatever, as long as we do not physically injure another, is woefully inadequate.  As the mind sciences have begun to teach us, serious injury can and often does happen through words and images, sans actual physical harm.  Yet, we still hold on to the humanity of slaveholders.  How we can do this is a difficult question, but in the immediate future, our focus must be more on the enslaved and less on the enslaver, all the while looking for the opportunity to bridge.

The process of othering is not just top down.  The elites have more influence in the structure and process than the non-elites.  And, as suggested above, men have more influence than women on issues of gender, and whites have more influence than people of color on issues of race.  In other words, there is a lack of symmetry.  Yet, the claim that marginalized people cannot engage in the process of othering is a mistake.  Indeed, marginalized groups are likely to other both other marginalized groups, as well as people who accord others more hierarchical standing than their own group.  Part of the claim is that because marginalized groups lack power, they cannot engage in othering.  This is a mistaken assumption for a number of reasons.  Power is important, but no group is completely devoid of power.  Secondly, marginalized groups can and often do engage in othering of other marginalized groups.  Finally, because a group is marginalized on one axis, does not mean they are marginalized in other areas.  A person of color may have male privilege, or able body privilege, or language and so on.  Again, this is not suggesting a symmetry.

I began this article by talking about the “we.”  I’d like to come back to that discussion.  We are constantly experiencing our relationships with each other through the structures, environments, and the stories we live in. We are composed of complicated processes and many of those processes are unconscious.  In recent years, we’ve become more aware, through the study of mind science, that the self is not singular or unitary.  Much of what happens, happens at an unconscious level.  The unconscious is deeply social, and deeply habituated by engaging with the larger world and reflecting on things that happen repeatedly and in close proximity to ourselves.  This process is unavoidable.  In a society where ranking or grading people by race is the norm, the unconscious will carry this norm in virtually every member of society.  It is like living in an environment where the air is polluted; it affects everyone.

In a society where ranking or grading people by race is the norm, the unconscious will carry this norm in virtually every member of society.  It is like living in an environment where the air is polluted; it affects everyone.

It is true that in a society organized around race, like our society is, whites will be more infected by this ideology than people of color.  But, people of color will be carrying this infection as well.  The same can be said for gender, sexual orientation, disability and so on.  This does not mean that everyone is therefore racist or homophobic, but it does mean that this process will affect all of us and our sense of who we are.

While the unconscious is big and fast, the conscious is small and slow.  The unconscious is old, and the conscious is new.  We can’t get rid of all of these unconscious processes as we need them to survive.  But, we can have a different relationship with them, and we can create new structures and new patterns so that our unconscious is not undermining our conscious values.  It appears that a sustained practice can reduce the amount of the habituated bias of the unconscious.  But there is nothing to suggest that we can end it completely.  Practitioners will likely carry the problem associated with their group situatedness.  Too often there is a superficial assumption that because one is engaged in a spiritual practice, they are no longer impacted by racism or sexism.  There is nothing that supports this.  The ways spiritual practice came to the West, shows many of the western (white) limitations.

It should be clear now that the issue of hierarchy is the official ideology of much of our country.  The AltRight has reclaimed white supremacy and white security as its tagline.  The problem of race in the United States has never been primarily about people of color, but more so about white ideology and white supremacy itself.  Most people who identify as white and are phenotypically white, are really the middle players.  They do not put white supremacy in place, nor are they always a beneficiary of it.  It is true that there is a psychological benefit to being affiliated with whiteness and its relationship to non-whites, but there is an incredible cost that is ignored.  The material benefits associated with whiteness have been in decline for several years, but the benefits have not been extended to people of color by and large, with few exceptions.  It is the elites that benefit the most from the ideology of whiteness or othering in a given society.  This is important because in order to challenge white supremacy, it is not enough to challenge white people.  You must challenge the white supremacist ideology and those who benefit the most from whiteness, which mutates over time.  The benefit is often in the form of a transfer of wealth and power from people of color, working-class, and middle-class whites themselves.  They also can use this ideology of white supremacy which is bound up with religion, particularly Christianity, as a justification for imperialism.  Imperialism and whiteness were never solely about one’s religious affiliation or one’s color, but also the arrangement of power and distribution of privilege.  In terms of power, elites have been given a disproportionate share, but do not have all of it and can never have all of it.  

Because we are spiritual animals or embodied transcendent beings, we will never be completely determined by our material circumstances, but neither will we ever become completely free of them.  What this suggests, in part, is that whiteness cannot be undone by just white people alone.  It is a project that affects all of us, and one which all of us have a stake in doing and redoing.  There are no natural boundaries for whiteness, people of color, blackness, etc.  These are all important social boundaries with real social meanings, but they do not represent biological boundaries or have any essential meaning.  Further, these boundaries are always being challenged and shifted based on social pressure and contestation.  Part of the question is whether we can make these boundaries very porous or eliminate them altogether.  Boundaries work to allow the privileged people on the inside who have attachments to people on the outside, to allow people in provisionally, but to be policed by the privileged.  But oftentimes, some of the boundary cells are doing as much harm as good.  At some point, the question of othering and belonging has to shift from what happens within the national boundaries, to what happens beyond our national boundaries.  

How do we shift the process from structural, institutional, and even spiritual othering, to that of belonging?  As we remove the schisms between ourselves and the apparent other, between ourselves and different nations, between ourselves and the earth, we have a possibility of healing.

This brings us to the question of how these practices are kept in place and what should be done to remove them.  There are many things that keep the practice of othering in place.  Obviously, physical, educational, and employment related segregation play an important role.  Segregation is not simply about the separation of people based on phenotype, but also about separating people from critical resources, including resources for participating in self-making.  How do we shift the process from structural, institutional, and even spiritual othering, to that of belonging?  As we remove the schisms between ourselves and the apparent other, between ourselves and different nations, between ourselves and the earth, we have a possibility of healing.  On a deep spiritual level, the ideology of hierarchy in general, and whiteness in particular, is antithetical to being healthy.  The effort to restore health in fighting an environment where supremacy, imperialism, and domination continue to operate creates serious limitations.  There are many things we can and should do such as de-stress, practice meditation, and hold healing circles, just to name a few. Also, healing suggests that there’s been an injury or setback of some kind, and a need to recover.

Part of the role and ideology of whiteness has been about trying to assuage the fears and anxiety associated with being a separate human being.  The anxiety of life and death will not go away, but we can heal the illusion of separation.  Love and empathy are probably two of the most important ways of leaning into our interconnectedness, and yes, such interconnectedness brings with it vulnerability and even the threat of the other.  What I’m suggesting here in terms of belonging is not a false tolerance toward others, but instead, a radical challenge to the process of othering without rejecting the other, including the other within the self.  It is an important process that happens at multiple levels.  In the spirit of community, too often we are seduced into believing we can just do what is called internal work or private work, and leave the rest of the world alone. This transcendence leaves much of the suffering in the world undisturbed.  It leans toward an accommodation for the structures of oppression.  Instead, I’m suggesting we practice and embrace a deep engagement with the world, with others, and with what we might call internal work.  We engage in the work not just by interacting with each other, but also by reclaiming the institutions and structures that are shaped by our government and support our interrelatedness and honor our individuality.  Put simply, a full life requires vulnerability.

In sum, we are witnessing an ongoing assault on life of various forms. The elites have an oversized role and an apparent oversized benefit from these systems.  The ideology of whiteness may hurt most white people materially, and yet there may be some apparent psychological benefit.  People of color are likely to both be denied of the material benefits and suffer from the psychological component. Too often the spiritual community is too distant and protected from these process.  To engage may even be seen by some as not spiritual.  If they can have some distance from this system, they may be inclined to embrace a transformative love.  The way I have described the situation of whiteness and hierarchy may seem very problematic and even hopeless, but it is neither.  Because things are interrelated and connected, even a small shift in one or two critical areas can create a huge shift throughout the entire system.  Because we are in fact partially transcendent, even though we are also in body, we are never completely determined by our surroundings.  But we must not simply turn away from our structures.  If we can lean into belonging in the most powerful and loving way, it is possible for rapid change to happen in a relatively short period of time.  But, this requires us to engage ourselves and the other.  This requires engaging in the spiritual and the material.  And, not at a safe distance, but with intimacy and love.  This should not be seen as a distraction from our practice but a wonderful expression of our practice.  As we build bridges and even become bridges, we will be doing a service to the world.  But in the service, it is useful to remember the words of bell hooks.  Bridges are made to walk on.


john a. powell is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of civil rights, civil liberties, structural racism, housing, poverty, and democracy. He is the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and Professor of Law, African American, and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He led the development of an “opportunity-based” model that connects affordable housing to education, health, health care, and employment. His latest book is Racing to Justice: Transforming our Concepts of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society.

White Fragility: The Need for Creating Psychosocial Stamina in Interracial Relationships

by Eric D. Peterson

Why is it so difficult for so many White people to honestly, and interracially, talk about race and racism in America? Why does the term “White privilege” cause so much turmoil within many White people? How can a White person ethically claim they do not identify as being “White” in a Nation torn apart from racial inequality (health & socioeconomic), injustice, racism, and White Supremacy? How can a White person honestly state they have not earned their wealth and social status in a historical network of sociocultural, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical systems all rigged to their advantage? What is White Fragility and what does it have to do with The Work That Reconnects? As White people practicing The Work That Reconnects, how can we truly reconnect anything without first facing our own fragile racial positionalities in relationship to White Supremacy?

As White people practicing The Work That Reconnects, how can we truly reconnect anything without first facing our own fragile racial positionalities in relationship to White Supremacy?


In The World is made of Stories, David Loy helps the reader find more self-awareness around the process of storying—meaning making—and one’s relationship to one’s personal story as well as to the collective narratives we all co-create and share. Loy notes:

Like the proverbial fish that cannot see the water they swim in, we do not notice the medium we dwell within. Unaware that our stories are stories, we experience them as the world.

But we can change the water. When our accounts of the world become different, the world becomes different. (2010, p. 5)

What is your story of being White? What is your relationship to the story of Whiteness? How do you reconcile your Whiteness within the myth that is “America the Great”? How do you position yourself with the dominant narrative of White Supremacy?

This article is intended to help us “see the water” we are individually and collectively swimming within, as well as to help with the vital need to “change the water” we White people see ourselves within. This article invites you, as a White person, to find more spaciousness and humility within the stories of race, racism, White Supremacy, and the Colonial Legacy of the Western World. We are working to Reconnect a fragmented consciousness and worldview, but as White people doing this work, we must start very close to home and be willing to do some very uncomfortable Work of our own Reconnecting to the deeper racial realities of America and the Western World’s colonial consciousness.

Gratitude. I’m filled with gratitude for the self-awareness of being a White male. I’m grateful for understanding that my ability to identify with, or without, Whiteness is actually an exercise of my White privilege and my complacency within our racist society. I acknowledge I have personally, and systemically, benefitted from living in a sociocultural context of White Supremacy and Patriarchy, which breed racism and misogyny, and both are at the heart of the multitude of relational crises (e.g., social and ecological) we are currently facing. I’m grateful for my recent education in Anthropology, Psychology, Native American Studies, and Transformative Leadership, which all have helped (missing information flows) with the needed psychosocial education for me to more accurately see myself as a racially positioned member of our society, culture, and world. I’m grateful for how this specific educational pathway is helping me to understand my personal relationship to White Fragility and the need to do the personal Work of creating more racial self-awareness and psychosocial stamina. What is White Fragility? According to Robin DiAngelo (2011), the scholar who coined the term:

White Fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. Racial stress results from an interruption to what is racially familiar. These interruptions can take a variety of forms and come from a range of sources… (p. 57)

If we, as White people, are going to ethically do The Work That Reconnects, we must simultaneously do the personal Work of understanding what White Fragility is and how we create more psychosocial stamina within our interracial interactions.To accomplish this uncomfortable task, we must be willing to face the deeper truths, and myths, about White Supremacy, race, racism, and the privilege of being able to view one’s self as transcending race through some sort of New Age, or socially disconnected, universalism. We must find gratitude for the awareness that being able to view one’s self as somehow existing outside of race and racism is actually an act of privilege usually afforded exclusively to White people. We must find gratitude for the disturbing emotions of White Fragility, and see them as vital forms of feedback from our critically out of balance humanly constructed social systems (e.g., cultural, economic, political).

If we, as White people, are going to ethically do The Work That Reconnects, we must simultaneously do the personal Work of understanding what White Fragility is and how we create more psychosocial stamina within our interracial interactions.

Honoring our pain. I’m honoring our pain, and especially the pain of people of color, whom have been harmed (sometimes fatally) and systemically oppressed by White privilege, by my White privilege, and the institutionalized racism of White privilege. I’m speaking truth to White power, and to truly honor “our” pain, we all, as White people, must find the awareness and courage to speak truth to the White power that has granted us our White privilege.

It took nearly forty years for me to learn that there is no biological basis to race, and that race and racism are stories we have been told and then we pass them along to be retold by those who will come after us. These stories were created in America to keep the masses divided to protect the elite power holders, and they still serve that insidious purpose. “Race” is a social construction, which has no biological basis, but as Ta-Nehisi Coates points out “[r]ace clearly has no biological element- because we have awarded it one…Race does not need biology. Race only requires some good guys with big guns looking for a reason” (2015). This is a critical point here! Because to claim there is no biological basis of race, and therefore, if we only educated everyone to this “fact”, then racism would no longer exist, is a form of side-stepping one’s own responsibility and accountability to our humanly constructed racist systems, which have caused so much pain in our world. This type of logic definitely does not honor the pain of the millions of people of color who have been subject to slavery, genocide, systemic oppression, racism, and unjust mass incarceration. So how do we, White people, truly honor the pain of the “others” within this sociocultural context of White Supremacy and Patriarchy? How do we truly honor the pain of our world, if we continue to benefit from the systemic pain caused by our society of White Supremacy?

In Patriarchy, the System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us, Johnson notes, “[t]he problem isn’t society and it isn’t us. It’s the relationship between the two… the nature of the thing we participate in and how we choose to participate in it and how both are shaped in the process” (2003, p. 32). As White people choosing to do The Work That Reconnects, we must face the true consequences of how we are choosing to participate in the dialectical nature of the shaping of our self and society, and how this is interrelated with the perpetuation of our system of White Supremacy.

Seeing with new eyes. I’m seeing with new eyes through a lens constructed from actively seeking out racial information (missing from the dominant discourse on race), which allows one to more accurately see the complexities of the social disequilibrium that America and the Western World was built upon and is perpetuated through. Our institutionalized story of education is missing vital racial information, which could help White people to develop more psychosocial stamina as well as become more racially literate. With respect to the role of missing information within system’s functionality, Meadows notes, “[m]issing information flows is one of the most common causes of system malfunction. Adding or restoring information can be a powerful intervention….” (2008, p. 157). How would you know what is missing within the racial information flows that have informed your racial literacy? Our social (racial) systems are obviously malfunctioning for “others”, but they are functioning quite well for the normative, which is being White.As White people practicing The Work That Reconnects, are we ready to see our Whiteness with new eyes? Are we ready to see White power and privilege with new eyes?

As White people practicing The Work That Reconnects, are we ready to see our Whiteness with new eyes? Are we ready to see White power and privilege with new eyes?

 

Talking directly about white power and privilege, in addition to providing much needed information and shared definitions, is also in itself a powerful interruption of common (and oppressive) discursive patterns around race.

Talking directly about white power and privilege, in addition to providing much needed information and shared definitions, is also in itself a powerful interruption of common (and oppressive) discursive patterns around race.At the same time, white people often need to reflect upon racial information and be allowed to make connections between the information and their own lives. (DiAngelo, 2011, p. 67)

If we are truly working to see with new eyes, White people have to be able to honestly face the power differential (e.g., social, political, economic) that White privilege necessarily, and systemically, creates, becausethe eyes of White Supremacy have been shaping the story of the Western World for hundreds of years.

the eyes of White Supremacy have been shaping the story of the Western World for hundreds of years.

As Jonson points out, “[o]n some level, most people are familiar with the idea that social life involves us in something lager than ourselves, but few seem to know what to do with that idea” (2003, p. 26). A vital piece of missing information within the stories we collectively tell ourselves is the interdependent relationship between self-creation and world-creation, because there is no society “out there”, there is no culture that we are conveniently separate from. Our humanly constructed systems do take on a life of their own, but we are the one’s who continue to breathe life into these living systems (intentionally or not), and if we are going to transform these systems, then we will need to see ourselves more honestly embedded within all of these systems, which includes the system of White Supremacy.

Going forth. I’m humbly going forth into the world with an intention of becoming more mindful of my own experience with White Fragility, and a sincere hope to help other White people become more racially informed and less psychosocially fragile. Just as our sociocultural context is constantly changing in some way, and represents a “work in progress”, so too is the personal Work of being White in a system of White Supremacy. In other words, dealing with our White Fragility is not something we check off the to-do list after reading some articles or books, and/or attending some workshop meant to bring more self-awareness to our racial understandings and racial/social positionality. Being a White person who most likely experiences some level of White Fragility, our personal Work, which is ongoing, is a vital part of our life’s pathway

dealing with our White Fragility is not something we check off the to-do list after reading some articles or books, and/or attending some workshop meant to bring more self-awareness to our racial understandings and racial/social positionality… our personal Work, which is ongoing, is a vital part of our life’s pathway

, and this is especially true if we identify with being agents of change through The Work That Reconnects.

While anti-racist efforts ultimately seek to transform institutionalized racism, anti-racist education may be most effective by starting at the micro level. The goal is to generate the development of perspectives and skills that enable all people, regardless of racial location, to be active initiators of change. Since all individuals who live within a racist system are enmeshed in its relations, this means that all are responsible for either perpetuating or transforming that system. However, although all individuals play a role in keeping the system active, the responsibility for change is not equally shared. (DiAngelo, 2011, p. 66)

The responsibility to transform our racist systems of White Supremacy is “not equally shared”! Racism stemming from White Supremacy is a White peoples’ problem. White Fragility is vital feedback from our imbalanced social/racial systems, and if we can find gratitude for its disturbing nature, then we can use it as a creative force of disrupting the system of White Supremacy and racism.

References

American Anthropological Association (1998). http://www.americananthro.org/ConnectWithAAA/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2583

Coates, Ta-Nehisi. (2013). What we mean when we say: Race is a social construct. The Atlantic.

DiAngelo, R. (2011). White fragility. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, 3(3), 54-70.

Johnson, A. (2003). Patriarchy, the system. ftp://ftp.ucss.ge/Gender%20Studies%202013-2014%20exam%20reader/13.pdf

Loy, D. (2010). The world is made of stories. Somerville, MA: Wisdom.

Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.


Over twenty-five years ago, Eric started working as an outdoor adventure leader. At the age of forty, he returned to Southern Oregon University (SOU) where he earned Bachelor of Science degrees in anthropology, psychology, and a minor in Native American Studies (2012). Recently, Eric graduated from California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) with a MA in Transformative Leadership. Eric is continuing his inquiry at CIIS in the Transformative Studies program (PhD, 2020). Eric is of Norwegian, German, and British descent, and lives in the Mount Shasta area of northern California with his partner Angelah, who is Filipina. Eric teaches Adventure Therapy at SOU, and is creating a career in teaching Transformative Leadership in academia as well as in the private sector.

Eric asks that any monetary appreciation for his article be directed to the Highlander Center: https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1417777 Donations are tax deductible.

Dear White People

by Aries Jordan

Dear White people,
(Specifically to the liberal, progressive, millennial people who feel disconnected from white extremist)

It is time to heal your community and address the extremist.
Its time to address your at risk kids in the suburbs and private schools.
White Feminist it is time to re-educate your Men and sons.
It is time to retrace your roots, rituals and ceremonies and relearn your culture so you do not have to misappropriate and misrepresent another culture as your own.
It is time to reflect and study White privilege’s impact in your personal life.
It is time to declare a war on drugs specifically heroin and prescription medication.
It is time to experience the discomfort of challenging White privilege at your dinner tables, BBQs and social functions so that you do not have to seek refuge in the hood and play poor to restore your humanity.
It is time to google and research, so when another narrative that goes against the comforts of White privilege/ supremacy you don’t have a nervous breakdown and obstruct progress with your guilt.
It is time to explore why White people are in constant fear and addicted to creating weapons.
At this time we need you to address White on White violence.
It is time to use your privilege and protection to fight against injustice any chance you get, because beyond news coverage it is happening everyday.
Educate and heal yourself and the White community because the people of the world cannot.
We want you to focus your energy on your people and we will heal and restore our own communities.
Maybe just one day we can live in true peace and harmony.

Aries J


Aries Jordan is a poet, performance artist, educator, cultural worker and MFA candidate Spring 2018 .  Aries poetry weaves together prose, proverbs and cultural narratives of the African diaspora. Her work reflects the intersection between race, politics and spirituality. She is the Author of  Journey to womanhood: A poetic Rite of Passage and  chapbook series titled The  Evolution of a Poetic Goddess: Volume I & II in in 2013. Aries is a performance artist and curator of literary events that combine healing arts and social justice like Poetry in the Park and Feeding the Artist Within. Aries is a proud New Yorker currently residing in Oakland, CA. Aries is available for performances, workshops and panels send inquires:  [email protected].  Social Media handle: @ ariesjthepoet

Poem: Go and receive

by Zilong Wang

Go and receive, humbly and freely, from everyone
So that you could not bear to ever break their hearts
Who would poison the well that has filled your cup
When you were dying of thirst?

Receive without expectations or seeking
Receive from the poorest, lowest,
From the farthest, the most unlikely of places
Receive from your enemies and from those you fear
So that you rid yourself of “us vs. them”

Risk yourself to be in the position
Of having no choice but to receive
Because only then
Do you start to understand others on their terms

In fact, we have already received from all
Each living being has been our mother in a past life
But sometimes, it takes actual receiving in this life
To be reminded of “who is my mother, and who are my brethren?”

We never really give from our own wealth
We only repay our parents’ kindness
And pay forward the Grace of Life
Therefore, receive, so that we may give!


Zilong Wang was born and raised in China. He came to the US for college, and then worked in the Bay Area for a sustainability consulting firm while living at Canticle Farm and studying with Joanna Macy. One day, he heard a calling to go on a pilgrimage around the world by bicycle (mostly) for the ecological and spiritual awakening of our time. He has been on the road since Feb 2016. He shares the learnings from the “Journey to the East” at: www.JourneyE.org

The work Beyond ‘The Work’

by adélàjà simon

Nou Pase Kay Etranje
Hougan Sydney, January 31, 2016

Nou pase kay etranje
Nou jwenn pitit nou
Ap bale pa pòt
Nou chita nan salon etranje
Nou w
è table nou
Kwoke sou mi
Nou tande mizik nou ap sot nan gagann yo
N-antre nan kizin etranje

Nou jwenn toutrèl nou
Ap kwit nan chodyè yo
Yo ta chode toutrèl lavi-n

Yo ta toufe zwezo bèlte-n
Men gen moun ki pase
Chodyè -a dekouvri 
Toutrèl vole l-ale
Sou dife a-l kite
Yon chodyè ki vid k-ap boule

We go up a foreigner’s steps
And find our children
Sweeping his floor
We pass through a foreigner’s house
And find our paintings
On his wall
We hear our music coming from his gullet
We enter a foreigner’s kitchen
And find our dove
In his cooking pot
He’s trying to cook our bird alive

He’s trying to smother our wild dove
Someone’s lifting the lid
The dove’s escaping
The dove’s escaping
Leaving on the fire
An empty pot that is burning.

It is very curious to me how much folks want to hear about the three POC cohorts in the Work that Reconnects. Exploring that topic was my original invitation to writing this article.

Many in this cultural context dream of a workshop where they are in a space with peoples of all ‘colors’ singing together in harmony…is that you? In that same dream, do you imagine which language(s) will be spoken? English…Spanish? Both dominator languages forced on the majority of peoples through physical and/or economic violence. Do you feel the weight of what is lost in service of assimilation for that dream to happen – looking at merely the one variable of language?


Some of the impacts of colonialism and assimilation? [i]

On one hand, I experience interest in those cohorts as a beautiful impetus, on another hand, I experience it as being asked how to best set up a mission school

I do not use that metaphor lightly as one whose family has been greatly impacted by the mission school system through the Anglican as well as Catholic churches. My Yoruba great grandfather was ripped from traditional Yoruba ways by Anglican missionaries and taught to keep future generations separate from everything of those ways except what is above the surface. My Ayisyen great grandfather was practicing from a revolutionary vodoun cosmology during the time that the U.S. occupied the island of Ayiti. This occupation [ii] literally paved the roads for current economic woes, and demonization of vodou in his lifetime and beyond.

Learning and living with Patricia St. Onge [iii] at Nafsi ya Jamii has taught me much about the layers of the landscape of culture, and learning to navigate it. Pat speaks of the separation from ancestral land, language and legacy as the ‘three legged stool’ that the ‘Industrial Growth Society’ [iv] or ‘Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy’ [v]  is built upon. 

the separation from ancestral land, language and legacy as the ‘three legged stool’ that the ‘Industrial Growth Society’ or ‘Imperialist White-Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy’ is built upon. What emerges once this three legged stool is created in our psyches can be characterized as Wetiko. 

What emerges once this three legged stool is created in our psyches can be characterized as Wetiko [vi]. This is a Cree or Algonquin word used to describe a psychic infection which leads to a condition that externalizes and replays the particulars of its formation. This replay of traumatic events is inviting those enmeshed in the dominant culture into the center of our own healing. When I use the word white, I use it as a synonym for Wetiko.   

The neocolonial energy in Yorubaland forced my father to separate from his traditions in its sanctioned schools, then led my father to the U.S. He now experiences the decision to leave Yorubaland as one of his biggest regrets. My grandfather had already died before my meeting him in this realm to learn his stories and my grandmother may as well if I do not make it to Yorubaland soon. Intergenerational transmission is one of the many major impacts of assimilation.

The earth centered energy of vodou and the way that that cosmology was held through my great grandfather molded my mother. She raised my siblings and I knowing some of our interrelationship with the ancestral realm, plant realm and spirits. My siblings and I were forged in the heat of their conflicting world views.

This is a very small window into my own story, and, experiencing its multidimensionality leaves me doing my best to reclaim those traditions before they are too far lost.

Reaching across time and space, with one hand grasping the hand of my paternal great grandfather and his father and the other grasping the hand of my maternal great grandfather, encircled in the collective ancestral village.

Reaching across time and space, with one hand grasping the hand of my paternal great grandfather and his father and the other grasping the hand of my maternal great grandfather, encircled in the collective ancestral village. This speaks to one aspect of the meaning of my first given name: adélàjà, the one who settles a dispute between mother and father.

You may identify with the missionary in these images, wanting to defend them. Or maybe with my mother or father. You may want to stand up for the Yoruba, identify with the Ayisyen or bash the church. Rather than do any of those things, I invite you to get intimate with your story, with the unconscious urges in yourself, your family and in this culture and bring them to consciousness.

I invite you to get intimate with your story, with the unconscious urges in yourself, your family and in this culture and bring them to consciousness.


Bringing the unconscious to consciousness.

A teacher, Malidoma Somé, [vii] speaks of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, in one dimension, as white folks being called to Africa in search of healing. Because the urge was (is) unconscious it’s easy to mislabel and align with the imperial impulse of the time. We can see this unconscious dynamic continuing in many ways. Specific to this article, it can be seen in the urge to diversify spaces – including the container for WTR. Once again, Wetiko is highly contagious.  

The tribal elders of the Dagara (Malidoma’s tribe) and other tribes have sent emissaries to this dominant culture, and in particular to the U.S., to share their wisdom as an attempt to heal Wetiko and reweave the three realms that have become the three legs of the stool: connection to ancestral land, legacy and language. This work of tribal elders goes on, by many recognizing that they will likely not make it through this current advance of industrial ‘civilization’ intact…

My great grandfather Papa Jo has taught me that there are agreements implicit in consumption: to preserve the life of that which you consume, and to integrate it as deeply as is possible.

This can be seen as relatively straight forward in some senses: eating from an apple tree, I want to preserve the life of this tree, to share and preserve the fruit rather than waste. Looking at the industrial agricultural machine, this itself is revolutionary, and we are being asked to drop deeper. Being asked to drop our awareness to the level of the soil and the microbes that live there to the intrinsic water cycle that provides for the land. Wider yet, there are over 7,500 types of apples eaten worldwide, and at least that many cultural containers for the flavors and stories connected with these fruits. There is also a much wider living ecologic system of which this tree is a part. As we widen our lenses to experience the nourishment received, let’s tend our own many layered forest of stories.

Staying with the topic of consumption, I will speak a bit on music. Listening to pop music with an informed ear, you can hear the strong influence of the blues. In the last few years, more and more you can hear artists’ pseudo Caribbean accents and rhythms. These are rhythms that emerged from ways of being that have specific contexts and meanings, carried in the heartbeats of enslaved peoples to support connection amidst atrocities. Extracted from their roots, they very quickly become feel good music, or with a wider view, feel good food, dance, clothing, parlance…all while erasing the people and places that birthed them – as well as the impact that dehumanization brought and continues to bring to all. The stories that animate the WTR or any other body of work, walk this same line and very often repeat this pattern of erasure.

Switching back to the unconscious urge that brought white folks to the continent, honoring what you have consumed is not unconscious integration into a ‘melting pot’ of rootless music or ‘spirituality.’ Honoring is fully integrating what we have received and using it as a signpost pointing back toward ancestors of blood and forward toward future ones as part of the rooted structure of “Life Sustaining Systems.”

The Work that Reconnects is an introduction to many aspects of what a healthy culture could look like – it is NOT an end point.

Ancestors: According to my traditions of blood, we have an obligation to ancestors of blood, ancestors of place, and ancestors of spirit/psyche/cultural orientation in this order. On one level, the absence of fulfilling that obligation results in the kind of socio-ecologic disconnect that we see today.

How is your life specifically impacted by your ancestors? What is passed down the line for you? Specific gifts? Challenges? Take this opportunity to learn, bringing either or both to conscious work versus sending to the next generation unacknowledged. Return to a consistent practice of honoring and communing with them. [v][vi]

Family: The field of Epigenetics teaches us much. Specific to this article, it teaches us about emotion as well as survival strategies passed down the blood line for survival. How are you unpacking this and the way it lives in your family? Post traumatic Slave Syndrome [ix] and Wetiko, how is your family system informed by these? In these places are gifts of connection and power waiting to be healed (brought toward wholeness from fragmentation).  Addictions, from substances to work to sex, stem from them. A clear and consistent practice is needed for each of us to attend to this important and ongoing work. Step into a role of healing your family system.


Community: What is the biggest issue in your neigborhood? What is your role in it? Your ancestors of blood’s role? Family’s? Social group(s)’? Do you understand the issue and its nuances? How are you leveraging your influence to stand for justice in this moment? Are you using this opportunity to enact healing or further fragmentation?

Gentrification comes to mind as one of the major social issues where I have been living in the so called ‘San Francisco’ Bay area. This is ecological destruction. Stories in place are being buried and lost as people who do not have connection to the place move in and contribute – mostly unconsciously – to displacement. This displacement in this place is a continuation of the displacement and erasure started by the Spanish and continued by the U.S. ‘western expansion’.

There are no observers in this cosmos. If you see on the faces of each person being displaced and now living in the streets an ancestor one, two, three, or four generations back, can you still step over them on your way to the coffee shop in Oakland feeling good about giving them a dollar, knowing that they hold stories about the particular ways that this place knows itself through the people? What does this same issue mean for folks indigenous to Huichin who have been systematically denied access to their own ancestral homeland and sacred sites? We all participate in some way, every day, with every issue facing us today. Embed your worldview in every aspect of your lifeway. [x]

Closing

This may seem like a lot of work…! And yet, there is nothing here that is unnecessary and so much more that is not included!

This highlights the need for eco/soulcentric [xii] communities that are committed first and foremost to supporting each other in this healing work…and from that place of wholeness burning away all of the ways of being – inner and outer that stand in the way of embodiment of our individual and collective human place in earth life. There are some ideas for framing this transition below. [x][xi]

I have heard many facilitators as well as participants in this work (and many other bodies of work) speak to the container created being the only place where they are seen or fully actualized. I challenge those reading this with that belief to take on the tasks above, using the containers created within the Work that Reconnects Intensives or programs as merely a starting point.  


There is nothing to lose. Grief and a whole slew of emotions are inviting us to step into conscious service of life. One could say that the story of western civilization is the story of the spread of Wetiko. Is the comfort of this life for this moment worth that level of destruction? The Work That Reconnects invites us each to broaden our identification. Let’s use our understanding of ourselves as ‘living members of a living earth’ to, as Joanna has said, ‘Build the new within the shell of the old.’

Standing on the threshold of ecological collapse, watching the shadow of the ‘Western’ psyche play out in the political, social and economic systems of the world stage, I offer this small contribution to a movement in service of life.

I challenge you to forgo ego [xii] aggrandizement, to make a commitment like Dawna Markova below in honor of all that has brought us to this moment, and all that beckons us into the future. I challenge you to attend the multidimensional work of healing, and take big risks in service of life. I challenge you to uplift the immense privilege of being conscious stewards during this pivotal moment in the story of human planetary interrelationship. It is from this place, that true cross-cultural communion emerges.

‘I will not die an unlived life
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid, more accessible,
to loosen my heart until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as a seed
goes to the next as a blossom
and that which came to me as a blossom, goes on as fruit.’
– Dawna Markova [xiii]

End notes
[i] Cultural assimilation is the process by which a person’s or group’s culture come to resemble those of another group. The term is used to refer to both individuals and groups; the latter case can refer to either immigrants or native residents that come to be culturally dominated by another society. Cultural assimilation may involve either a quick or gradual change depending on circumstances of the group. Full assimilation occurs when new members of a society become indistinguishable from members of the other group.

Parisi, Domenico, Federico Cecconi, and Francesco Natale. “Cultural change in spatial environments: the role of cultural assimilation and internal changes in cultures.”Journal of Conflict Resolution 47.2 (2003): 163-179.

[ii] Danto, Ezili, http://www.ezilidanto.com/2015/07/100th-anniversary-of-the-us-occupation-of-haiti/
[iii] Seven Generations Consulting, http://www.seven-generations.org/

[iv] Macy, Joanna, “Coming Back to Life: The updated Guide to the Work that Reconnects” (2014): 137.

[v] hooks, bell, “Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center” (1984): 14.

[vi] Forbes, Jack, “Columbus and other Cannibals” (1978): 46.

[vii] Malidoma Somé, “The Healing Wisdom of Africa” (1998), http:www.malidoma.com

[viii] Daniel Foor, http://ancestralmedicine.org/

[ix] Degruy, Joy, “Post traumatic Slave Syndrome” (2005)

[x] adélàjà simon, http://emergeazurescens.life

[xi] Movement Generation Just Transition Framework, http://movementgen.electricembers.net/justtransition/

[xii] Plotkin, Bill, “Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche” (2003): Ch. 2,  http://www.natureandthehumansoul.com/newbook/chapter2_sc.htm

[xiii] Markova, Dawna, “I will not Die an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion” (2000): 1.


Raised in Baltimore, adélàjà is a first generation U.S.born Yoruba, Arawak and Ayisyen descended being working to use this body and this life as a vessel to lift others up and explore the questions, “What do truly regenerative, place-based human cultures that are rooted in ancestral wisdom and aligned with the evolutionary impulse look like?” “How can we align our lives with manifesting these cultures?” adélàjà is currently studying with the Animas Valley Institute, working with Growing Together to plant fruiting trees in community spaces around Oakland and offering a practice at emergeazurescens.

Building Safety, Inclusion, and Belonging in WTR: Considerations of Social Identity, Power and Privilege, and Intrapersonal, Interpersonal and Group Dynamics

by Erica Peng

Transforming how we connect with ourselves, each other, and the greater system is increasingly critical now, given the national and global socio-economic-political climate that reinforces division and conflict from difference, and leaves many of us in a heightened state of conscious and unconscious reactivity, threat, and distrust. Within this context, I see a great opportunity – and need – to develop and evolve WTR learning experiences and facilitator capacity to create more safety, inclusion, and belonging for all participants amidst challenges of difference, internalized power and oppression, and potentially charged dynamics.

In this article, I offer my perspective and recommendations for continued development of WTR, drawing from both personal and professional experiences. The first section describes my personal history and can be accessed through this link. This section doesn’t appear in the main body of the article due to space constraints, but it provides important context for my experience with WTR and the recommendations I offer: decades wrestling with the impacts of my identity as a first-generation Chinese-American woman born in the US, and the last ten years coaching leaders and facilitating groups and teams through challenging interpersonal and group dynamics, to co-create safety, inclusion, learning, and collaboration.

The remaining three sections include reflections and learnings from facilitating content and practices about self-awareness and interpersonal skills at WTR workshops this past year, along with my recommendations for the continued development of WTR. My recommendations are also informed by my experience incorporating WTR into a course I designed and teach at UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, called Interpersonal Skills and Embodied Leadership.

Part 2 Experiences from 2016 WTR Intensive Through a Lens of Safety, Feedback, Group Process and Development

In systems theory, feedback is a process that enables a system (such as a group of people) to maintain healthy functioning by adjusting and self-correcting based on reactions from other systems in the environment. Unfortunately, most of us haven’t learned how to effectively give and receive feedback safely and collaboratively. Without modeling and practice, it can be too risky to engage honestly. Feelings and reactions go underground, and/or erupt. Feedback conversations either don’t happen or they go off the rails. Individual and group safety, learning, and performance can suffer.

This is the cultural context within which we all exist, including WTR.

Below are three examples from the 2016 Intensive, that I hope illuminate how feedback can support group process and development, and how one might contribute feedback at a workshop, both informally as a participant and formally as a facilitator.

1. Interpersonal Feedback About Unintended Negative Impact

On the first day of the intensive we identified shared agreements about how to engage with each other. They included: “respect silence,” “welcome feedback, not fixing,” “take responsibility for impact,” and “honor timeliness.”

A day or two later I was having dinner with a group of eight or so others. One of the people in the group had visibly expressed strong emotions that seemed like grief and despair earlier that day. A few people at the table checked in to see how this person was doing. One began engaging in a way that I experienced as advice-giving and fixing, albeit with care and good intentions. I noticed the non-verbals of the person who was receiving the advice, and grew concerned they didn’t necessarily need or want fixing.

I had a choice in that moment: Let the interaction slide, or give feedback about my discomfort. I teach and model how to give and receive feedback as a core leadership skill in my work, so I felt confident about my ability to offer feedback with care. However, as a group we hadn’t received guidance or articulated an agreement about what to do if/when we experienced a “breach” in one of our agreements. I did feel some risk from going against social norms of being polite and friendly in early stages of getting to know each other.

I chose to step into the opportunity of the moment – and the risk. First, I shared the specifics of what I experienced as advice and “fixing.” Then I shared how I felt concerned that the person receiving the advice may not want or need it. I made sure to not assume the advice-giver’s intent, which can often evoke defensiveness.

The recipient of the advice did confirm they didn’t feel comfortable with the advice. The advice-giver felt apologetic about the impact, and also expressed appreciation for the feedback. I then shared more context which evolved into a conversation: I was concerned that advice-giving may cause others to hesitate from sharing (because they don’t want advice), and that it didn’t support our group agreement. Others at the table engaged in the exchange with appreciation.

I felt relieved and affirmed. And, offering direct, constructive feedback about negative impact was and usually is an awkward moment, no matter how many times one has done it.

I know from my own experience as both participant and facilitator, getting agreements down on paper is fairly straightforward. Challenges and/or conflicts arise when people interpret them differently in action and behavior, especially in larger groups with more diversity. This is when feedback and facilitation – and practice! – can be critical in supporting effective interpersonal and group development, learning, and collaboration.

2. Feedback to Whole Group About Unintended Negative Impact of Group Norms

A few days into the intensive, some people began arriving late to our morning Elm Dance ritual. People also started to re-gather late to Joanna’s teaching sessions after breaks. No one mentioned anything and it continued for a couple of days. As a Chinese-American with a cultural norm that emphasizes respect to teachers and elders as paramount, I had a heightened awareness of the lateness.

A day or two later, Joanna voiced her frustration from having to wait for people returning late before she could continue with her teaching. I heard Joanna’s frustration as feedback to our system and saw an opportunity for the group to self-correct. With the whole group gathered, first I acknowledged what I heard as frustration from Joanna, and my own sadness about that. Then I expressed to the group, how late arrivals were distracting me, and I posed a question about what we might do about our pattern of being late. Many chimed in to support my sentiment and the group was open and willing to get specific about actual behaviors that would “honor timeliness” once this was raised.

We came up with the following:

  • Take breaks in silence to maintain focus, attention, and the group container
  • Late arrivals to the morning dance will stand silently outside the room, hold space for those already dancing, and join after the music ends

In both of these examples, feedback came in the form of a negative reaction, as it often does, which then led to more clarity around interpersonal and group process. In Organization Development there is a well-known model by Bruce Tuckman which describes the stages of a group’s development:

Forming > Storming > Norming > Performing > Re-norming

Tuckman presents healthy conflict (Storming) as a necessary and inevitable phase in order for a team to grow and develop norms of behavior and engagement that support high-performance. The take-away: Effective feedback makes productive Storming possible!

Feedback Raises Awareness About Power Dynamics in the Room

One week into the intensive, I had separate conversations with two women of color and one international woman who shared frustration about experiencing behaviors in others that reflected unconscious bias around race, gender, and US-centric reality. Two of the three questioned whether they were behaving in a way that encouraged what they were experiencing as negative bias and/or stereotype. My heart went out to them, knowing one of the impacts of oppression is that one takes on individual responsibility for system dynamics.

I informally “checked in” with five other women of color, and one by one, each of them expressed that they also had experienced behavior and attitudes that were offensive (unintentionally). I spontaneously decided to gather the women together so they could hear each others’ experiences and know they were not alone. I also hoped they would more clearly understand there were structural power and privilege dynamics behind others’ bias and behaviors, and that they themselves were not responsible for the offenses they were experiencing.

We gathered for a quick twenty minutes and were joined by Patricia St. Onge, a member of the teaching team whom I had gotten close to through our home group. The women took turns sharing how they felt hurt and/or frustrated by comments and behaviors of other participants that seemed offensive and/or biased. It was powerful – and quite sad – to hear their negative experiences voiced all at once.

Patricia and I agreed it would be important for the teaching team, and the participants, to hear feedback from the women to get a window into how behaviors that reflected and perpetuated dynamics of power, privilege, and unconscious bias, were unintentionally impacting a significant number of women. The teaching team agreed. The women were very appreciative for the opportunity to share about their experiences with the whole group. At the same time, we acknowledged concern about the common reality of how sharing our struggle and what we experience as offensive and biased behavior can often “trigger” shame and guilt in white people.

When we stood in front of the whole group to share, what unfolded was a surprise to me. The women didn’t share examples of negative impact as they had intended. Instead, all but one spoke more generally about their personal identity journeys. I was confused at first, but by the time the last woman shared, I realized it may have been too risky to share directly, once we were actually standing in front of this group of about forty mostly white people.

In the moment, even though the women didn’t actually convey how they were impacted, I knew it would be just as important to name the power/safety dynamic that I saw unfolding before our very eyes. I was fully transparent with the group and communicated that there wasn’t enough safety for the women to share what had originally been intended.  

Knowing feelings had been stirred up, Patricia and I offered to gather with anyone who wanted to process reactions from that exchange. About fifteen people gathered and I made a deliberate choice to have white folks pair up with white folks and people of color pair up with people of color. My intention was to enable everyone to express and process what they needed to while minimizing the potential of triggering their partner.

In conversations with Anne Symens-Bucher and Joanna after the intensive, I reconfirmed how psychological safety is necessary for openness, learning, and group development. Given the potential for POC in mostly white groups to experience risk, vulnerability, lack of safety, and negative impacts from unconscious bias and white privilege, we agreed it would be important to create explicit structures to build safety for all participants, and especially POC, in WTR practices as well as throughout the course of a workshop.

Part 3 Building Safety, Rapport, and Capacity at the WTR Ghost Ranch Retreat: Affinity Groups, Group Process, and Skills Practice

Six months after the intensive, Joanna invited me to be on the teaching team for a WTR Retreat at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. This was the first opportunity to put some learnings from the intensive into practice.

Affinity Groups

There were about ten POC registered out of over sixty participants. Joanna, Anne, and I solidified plans for me to facilitate an affinity group for POC. I emphasized that it would be important to have a parallel affinity group for “whites” for the following reasons: 1) to counter the potential perception that POC are gathering because we have a problem or issue, and 2) to be explicit that issues of safety and dynamics related to race, gender, white power and privilege, etc., are everyone’s responsibility and interest, not just POC. We decided Anne and Martin Wagner, another member of the teaching team, would co-facilitate a group for white people.

Prior to the retreat, all POC affirmed they did want to meet as an affinity group. It was the first time that affinity groups for POC and whites were formally and explicitly a part of a WTR event.

During the opening evening, Martin and I explicitly shared that the purpose of the groups was to create safe space for POC to gather in support and sharing, and for white people to learn about and further explore how dynamics of white power and privilege, including unconscious bias, might “show up” in themselves. Both affinity groups were optional.

At the end of the weekend retreat, everyone in the POC group expressed deep appreciation for the explicit structure and articulated purpose of affinity groups, and hoped they would continue for every WTR event going forward. Martin reported that the white group participants all appreciated the opportunity, in the context of WTR, to share how they have each experienced white privilege in their lives, as well as how white privilege has been costly to them.

While the importance of these affinity groups was clear, the content and process unfolded in the moment. Anne, Martin, and I spent a lot of time checking in with each other about how people in the affinity groups were doing, and how to best support and facilitate based on what feelings and dynamics were emerging. Martin was informed by his own experience in anti-racism trainings for white people. He re-affirmed how important it is for white people to proactively seek out trainings and spaces for white people, where they can keep learning about the impacts of white privilege without burdening POC, and exploring emotions and questions that may be difficult to share in mixed-race settings (as a result of shame and guilt, or fear of causing pain to POC).

Working with these groups was a tremendous stretch and responsibility. I am in deep inquiry with colleagues about how to design content and process for affinity groups to “do work” separately, and then convene together to share learnings and build safety, understanding, empathy, and connection. There is potential for things to go well – and also poorly – so this is an area I’m approaching with intention and humility.

Adjustments to WTR Practice and Process

Joanna and the teaching team agreed that POC might feel safer to pair with each other, specifically for one of the “Honoring Our Pain” practices. I checked in with the POC, and everyone confirmed with a clear “yes.” As a result, when Joanna framed the practice and instructed people to find a partner, an explicit invitation was extended to POC to partner with one another, along with a few words about safety so white participants understood the reason why POC were choosing to partner with each other. In our affinity group check-in later that day, POC gave feedback that this small process change provided big gains of safety.

Incorporating Self-awareness, Skill-Building, and Owning Impact

With the goal of building psychological safety and rapport as participants experienced the content and practices of WTR together, Joanna invited me to present content about the neuroscience of triggers, as well as some “trigger-management” and interpersonal skill-building practices.

On the first evening I included a partner activity to practice authentic sharing and listening with empathy as a way to acknowledge and affirm each other’s experience, and begin building safety together. On the third and final day as a part of “Going Forth,” I facilitated a reflection that invited participants to identify and take responsibility for how our histories, triggers, trauma, perceptions, assumptions, and thoughts can and do lead to blame and contempt towards those who are different in political worldview, culture, language, religion, etc.,

After the reflection, a few people shared how they realized they had been rejecting their own Selves and others as a result of triggers from difference, shame, and guilt. There was palpable quiet as they took responsibility for their own reactions of blame and contempt, and also declared a renewed commitment to work their way back across the divides to reconnect with oneself and each other. I sensed a stirring in the quiet that I interpreted as deepening safety within the group as individuals expressed the vulnerability of owning one’s reactions.

Part 4: Recommendations for Facilitating Safety, Inclusion, and Belonging Through WTR

Currently, there are important efforts to re-examine the content and framing of WTR practices with the intention of being more inclusive of different identities and realities. However, attention to content alone is not adequate to support safety, inclusion, and belonging. As we experience WTR practices, we also experience emotional reactions and/or triggers, not only from the content of the practices, but also from each other, and dynamics in the group.

Facilitating a group of diverse individuals to build psychological safety and trust that enables learning, group development and collaboration can appear straightforward and even easy – if and when things go smoothly. The reality is, structures and systems of power and oppression both shape and are reinforced in our perceptions, behaviors, interactions, and group dynamics. Whether we’re aware of it or not, many of us are walking around in a guarded and protective stance. This is fertile ground for being unconsciously triggered and/or re-traumatized by perceived or real threats, especially in groups with many dimensions of difference, doing the type of deep work that the WTR involves.

Below I offer recommendations in four areas for navigating groups through WTR experiences amidst internal and external challenges and complexities:

  • Design and Facilitation Team
  • Elements of a Learning Arc
  • Building Capacity, Resilience, and Safety Throughout the WTR Spiral
  • Facilitator Awareness, Skill, Capacity

Design and Facilitation Team

We all are unconscious in the areas that we experience privilege and advantage. Three important ways to address this to support safety, inclusion, and belonging include:

1) White facilitators proactively engage with white privilege and anti-racism trainings;

2) Design and facilitation teams include individuals who reflect different demographics, realities, styles, and perspectives of diverse participants including race, gender, class, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, US/International, introvert/extrovert, conflict style, etc.; and

3) Facilitation teams collectively have depth and breadth of skill and experience in facilitating both content and process/dynamics.

Elements of a Learning Arc for Building Capacity and Resilience: Safety, Trust, Belonging

With a goal of designing and delivering a safe and impactful learning experience for a diverse group of participants, it is important that content is informed by a “learning arc” which includes 1) clearly stated goals and boundaries for what can and cannot be accomplished given available time and resources, and 2) elements to build safety, conceptual understanding, skills practice, and group development.

The elements I recommend are below. Please note this is not a fully developed learning arc. Due to space constraints, I only include elements that are additions that I believe would contribute to the capacity of a group to co-create safety, trust, and rapport with each other.

  • Structures

    • Affinity groups
  • Conceptual learning
    • WTR theory and practices
    • Framing practices with lens of safety and inclusion
    • Neuroscience research about triggers and how to manage them; assumptions and judgments; contempt and curiosity
    • “Four Horsemen” that lead to relationship failure (defensiveness, criticism, contempt, stonewalling)
    • Internalized dynamics from dominant culture manifest in perceptions, thoughts, assumptions, bias, and are perpetuated in how we react and interact with each other
  • Skill-building: Intrapersonal
    • Building awareness of emotions and triggers
    • Managing triggers and assumptions
    • Owning one’s impact
    • Transforming contempt to curiosity
    • Transforming shame (embodied practices for dignity, pride, self-empathy, etc.)
  • Skill-building: Interpersonal
    • Expressing appreciation
    • Empathetic listening that acknowledges another’s reality and builds safety
    • Giving and receiving feedback
    • Repairing from misunderstanding, unintended impact, conflict
  • Processes for Group Development
    • Check-ins with oneself, affinity groups, and/or other configurations to notice and process reactions to practices, content, and interpersonal dynamics throughout a workshop
    • Check-ins through feedback about group agreements
    • Check-ins about level of safety, inclusion, and sense of belonging
    • Process for sharing learnings from affinity groups

Building Capacity, Resilience, and Safety Before and Throughout the WTR Spiral

Given psychological safety is necessary for learning and group development, I believe it is critical to open a WTR workshop or event (before the Spiral) with a foundation of content and practices for building safety, trust, and belonging, and continuing with safety-building throughout each stage of the Spiral.

Below are recommendations for experiential learning and skill-building practices within each stage of the Spiral. All are practices I use in my leadership class and workshops, some I shared at the 2016 Intensive and 2017 Ghost Ranch Retreat.

I am not able to go into any detail about what each activity or practice is and facilitation approaches in this article, but hopefully the list below and brief explanation I offer at the end is enough to give a sense of the arc of skill- and capacity-building to support safety, learning, and a group’s development. All practices draw on – and build – resource, resilience, self-agency, and dignity.

An asterisk (*) indicates skills and practices that are repeated throughout subsequent stages of the Spiral.

Building Capacity and Resilience: Safety, Trust, Belonging

  • Seeing and being seen, acknowledging who is in the room (Community Welcome, etc.)
  • Overviewing the neuroscience behind emotional triggers and fight/flight/freeze responses
  • Acknowledging and managing triggers / building capacity to sit with discomfort*
  • Noticing risk and vulnerability in oneself and in others and practicing self-agency around self-care and boundaries for engagement*
  • Overviewing and practicing the basics of giving and receiving feedback as a collaborative process for learning how we impact each other (in tandem with creating group agreements)

Gratitude

  • Acknowledging the richness of our social identities that have shaped us and appreciating both the common human experience and differences we share
  • Listening with empathy to acknowledge each others’ realities*
  • Expressing appreciation about how we are contributing to each others’ learning*
  • Giving and receiving feedback about how we are impacting each other*
  • Owning my impact*
  • Self-awareness check-in*

Honoring Our Pain for the World (and for each other)

  • Acknowledging dynamics of difference: social identity, power, privilege, oppression
  • Transforming shame into embodied dignity, pride, self-empathy, etc.*
  • Repairing misunderstanding, unintended impact, and conflict*

Seeing with New Eyes

  • Transforming contempt to curiosity
  • Acknowledging hope and possibility from curiosity and openness

Going Forth

  • Setting intention and commitment for practices that support internal and external transformation and healing
  • Owning my impact and agency for hope and possibility

For “Honoring Our Pain for the World,” safety, trust, and resilience are a critical foundation for individuals and a group to effectively hold space for and support each others’ pain. In “The Three Stories of Our Time,” Joanna describes the oppressive realities of the industrial growth society at a system level. Acknowledging the impacts and injury we’ve experienced on a more intimate interpersonal level and/or in affinity groups may help build safety, trust, and resilience before a practice like the Truth Mandala, which acknowledges people at a group level and has not felt safe for some.

Practices for transforming shame are critical throughout a workshop experience because most of us have internalized shame no matter what our social identity is, dominant or non-dominant. When we retreat into our own shame and guilt, we are physiologically unable to own our impact (on ourselves or others), nor extend empathy towards ourselves or another’s experience.

Facilitator Awareness, Skill, and Capacities

Dynamics at intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, and system levels impact us consciously and unconsciously at all times, with implications on individual and group safety, development, connection, and collaboration. Given our cultural bias for concrete and tangible content, the realm of invisible and intangible process and dynamics is an area many do not recognize as requiring attention, learning, development, practice, and mastery.

At worst, risk and vulnerability may be unnoticed or unacknowledged; fear and trauma may surface; individuals enter fight/flight/freeze mode in response to threat; blame, shame, guilt, defensiveness, criticism, contempt, and “shutting down” can lead to disconnection and breakdowns in trust.

Given these daunting internal and external realities, I find it helpful to remember that misunderstanding, unintended impact, and conflict will inevitably arise and trauma will inevitably be re-triggered. Below are some of my on-going areas of practice and development for handling challenging and emergent dynamics, which in turn, builds safety and trust.

In terms of how to develop these skills and capacities, consistent self-awareness and mindfulness practices are important to cultivate awareness and self-regulation of one’s internal state. However, practices done on one’s own are not adequate for surfacing unconscious tendencies and bias, understanding whether I’m effective or not, and developing capacity to manage my triggers amidst challenging dynamics.  For this, I strongly recommend experiential and interpersonal practice through group process formats that involve feedback, such as T Group mentioned in section 1.

Intrapersonal

  • Name one’s reactions and triggers, both emotional and somatic (Modeling self-regulation and managing triggers is a critical embodied practice for building skill and resilience to be present and support a group’s development and process, as a group member and/or facilitator.)
  • Self-regulate and manage one’s own triggers in order to connect with all participants and support group process.
  • Increase comfort with discomfort and uncertainty
  • Surface awareness of unconscious processes: what shapes my own perceptions, assumptions, reactions, behaviors

Interpersonal

  • Sense and acknowledge risk and vulnerability that may not be verbally or visibly expressed and encourage participants to exercise self-agency for exercising self-care and boundaries for engagement
  • Notice when others are triggered and/or re-traumatized and support them in-the-moment to self-regulate and manage their nervous system response
  • Model skills and behaviors that build rapport and enable participants to connect authentically and safely: empathetic listening, vulnerable disclosure appropriate to level of safety and development, giving and receiving feedback about impact, “repair” from conflict
  • Model how to fully own one’s negative impact despite positive intent
  • Model how to receive acknowledgement with dignity as a contradiction to guilt and shame
  • Practice inquiry vs. advocacy
  • Take appropriate risks to be vulnerable and courageous to create an environment where people feel more safe, appreciated, included, engaged, and motivated

Group

  • Align stages of a group’s development with appropriate learning and practices
  • Sense, name, and facilitate interpersonal and group dynamics arising from systemic and structural dynamics and/or unconscious bias related to social identity, power, status, privilege, oppression, bias, blind spots, etc. For example: Who is speaking and who is not? Whose stories are being told and referred to? Who are the quieter voices in the room?
  • Facilitate interpersonal and group connection and understanding through difference, misunderstanding, unintended impact, conflict, etc.
  • Sense and acknowledge fear or distress at a group level, particularly in response to a participant who may be re-triggered and re-traumatized, and facilitate individuals and the group to re-establish safety

In closing, emotional reactions and emergent dynamics are messy! Human engagement and relationship dynamics are daunting. For all the resource channeled into outward exploration into our solar system and beyond, we have yet to dedicate equivalent exploration into our own internal landscape, and how that internal landscape impacts and is impacted by interpersonal, group, and system dynamics.

And yet, I’ve experienced time and time again, the potential and possibility of our human spirit to reach through entrenched disagreement, misunderstanding, and conflict with empathy and openness…grace and forgiveness. In the same way systems thinking opened up a new paradigm of interdependency, I believe the universe of intrapersonal, interpersonal, group, and system dynamics are the new frontier of reconnection and healing of our time.

I share my experiences and perspectives with humility about our simultaneous resilience and tenderness – and with great hope for the continued evolution of WTR and facilitator skill and capacity – as we transform internalized trauma and shame, and reach across divides and conflict towards connecting more deeply and authentically with one’s Self, and in relationship with others and the greater natural system.


Erica Peng: I’m a leadership coach, facilitator, educator, curriculum designer, storyteller. But my favorite comes from a participant of one of my workshops who said my business card should read, “Freedom Fighter.” Having spent over four decades fighting to reclaim my truth and dignity, my life’s work is to support others in their journey to do the same. To rest and recharge, I spend time with my other loves… Daniel, my cat, and the plants and creatures of my garden. I am grateful for how they ground and tether me to this earth. More about my work is at: www.deepstreamleadership.com

paypal.me/EricaPeng

Re-imagining Harvesting the Gifts of the Ancestors

by A.M. Davis

The first time I did the exercise, “Harvesting the Gifts of the Ancestors” I mentally pushed aside the places that overlooked the majority of my ancestry. I was in a workshop with Joanna, and when she said the word “we” I automatically and almost subconsciously replaced “we” with “they.” I have learned to do this replacement since Kindergarten in order to survive this culture with my sense of self intact. I learned to reconcile how not all of us settled down into villages and became farmers and craftsmen even though as part of my education, I was told that ‘we’ did this. As a child this was devastating. As an adult, I  have come to realize that the places where my ancestry is left out are the blind spots that the larger culture needs in order to perpetuate itself.

The assumption that “we all are this way” that the larger culture makes when it renders my ancestry invisible is painful, no matter how much I steel myself, I never know when and where the slight will come. Statements such as “People settled into towns and villages” leads us to assume that those who did not were somehow not really people. As of late, it leads me to assume that those who made the text books and define the culture leave us out because the culture must believe that people of color are not worthy of mention, and that somehow, evolution left us behind, and that because of this, we somehow deserved slavery, as well as the ongoing genocide of the indigenous cultures that remain.

When I rewrote “Harvesting the Gifts of the Ancestors,” I tried to not equate human evolution with those who lead the movement toward our current industrial growth society. I believe that people who stayed in Africa or anywhere outside of Western culture were constantly evolving in ways that Western culture has yet to value. I know that even though my form of story telling is written, I don’t believe that written language yields truer or superior stories that lead us to a truer understanding of reality. Nor do I believe that written language leads us to understand what the earth wants of us.

I believe that the earth wants something from us that westerners have yet to discover, and that we desperately need to consider the gifts of those ancestors who may be dying with each indigenous culture and language that gets swallowed up by western capitalism. As well intentioned as we may be to save ourselves, we must learn awareness of the blind spots that cause us to perpetuate the white supremacist belief system.

We may end up beseeching the ancestors to somehow give us back the wisdom that Western culture destroys with each dying language and culture if humanity wants to survive.

Finally, since most of my culture was stripped from my recent ancestors, I realize that my version of Harvesting the Gifts of the Ancestors is limited, but my attempt is necessary.

Harvesting the Gifts of the Ancestors
Derived from Joanna Macy’s Coming Back to Life

We start where we are here today in this moment, this January day gathered in this room. And we walk back through time and remember what it took to get to this spot, how we woke up this morning and dressed and had our meals. We walk back to how we prepared to get this retreat. The decision to come the planning. Traveling here alone or with others, the journey across the earth or the sky. We walk back through our week of packing and last minute preparations. And the last 30 days, with the holiday season, the visits, arrivals, reunions, happy or fraught with emotions… departures, journeys, or staying home.

Back through 2016 with its other seasons, how we carried ourselves through this difficult, shifting world, and the time before the fall season, what we worked for and what we hoped for. Through 2016’s spring and winter, our time in offices, homes, getting places on bikes or in vehicles or on public tranasportation or foot.

Now we move back through the decades of our adult lives. For some, many decades, for some a fraction. We move back through beginnings, perhaps jobs and journeys, relationship beginnings and endings, perhaps wanderings of few or many sorts, perhaps some false starts and some successes. Perhaps you witnessed the loss of someone you never conceived would be gone, or perhaps you lost people you knew would leave you. Perhaps you witnessed the birth of a child, yours or someone’s near to you.

Recall how as you lived, how you experienced the comings and goings of emotions and passions, the shifts in your perceptions and points of view, perhaps changes in your world or your cosmic views. Perhaps you arrived on the other side of situations you thought would end you. Perhaps you came through as a larger person that the former you could not imagine.

Walk back through your teenage years with your new emotions and ideals and opinions of yourself and your world. Walk back through your struggles and anguishes and dramas, your heartbreaks and milestones.

Walk back through your childhood and the people who knew you, how they called your name. Your peers and your elders. Lessons in and out of school, all of the things you needed to learn, the lessons you kept and the ones you unlearned by choice.

You are getting smaller and smaller. You have to lift up your hand to hold someone else’s, or you open a door by reaching up. You climb onto things in the adult sized world, hold onto adult sized objects with both hands.

Perhaps someone taught you how to ride a bike, or tend to a sick animal or read the stars, or the letters of the alphabet. Perhaps you learned to recite a story or a poem. Tie your shoe, comb your hair. Someone may have taught you how to pluck a chicken or crack a coconut and build a fire, or to cross a street, throw a baseball, and make change from a dollar, hold a pencil.

Now you are so small you are carried in arms, someone cleans you and keeps you warm and feeds you everything you eat.

Now, you are in your mother’s womb.  Her endless heartbeat is the background and foreground of your world, as are the vibrations that come through salt water.

And now it is the time before your existed in your current form. There was spirit, an energy, a message, carried in your parent’s DNA. Whether you knew your parents or not, it doesn’t matter. You can step back into their lives, into their lives as young adults as they carried the message of your life. These young people made the best choices known to them at the time. Dreams came to them. Some they held onto, some they let go of. They made those choices of which dreams to carry, over and over.

Now, move back into their adolescence, into their childhood, their time as babies and infants when they were carried, and given all of their sustenance and all of their messages for their lives by their parents, someone else, most likely your grandparents.

And so, too, for your great-grandparents and their parents. Sixteen great-great-grandparents carried you.  Move back through the twentieth century and before that. Move back to before the automobile, the telephone. Before anyone believed a computer or a cell phone or a flying machine or a trip to the moon could exist. Before electricity. These are your ancestors whose word would be altered by a revolution of industry that changed the way the future of humanity would experience life. As this revolution encroached, again and again, they each must have experienced life with less and less natural surroundings, and more and more human made inventions in the places where they lived traveled and dwelled.

Every human on earth eventually felt it this revolution. Some of them experienced the revolution of industry coming through the institution of slavery, as slaves, as governments declared that their bodies no longer belonged to them. They fueled this revolution with their physical labor in fields. Others worked coal mines as they sacrificed their lungs for its fuel. Some would experience the revolution as they lived their days in dark factories and teeming streets. Others, by purchasing the goods that this revolution produced, with the hope that these goods would satisfy their basic human need for love, understanding and security. Some left their people and families to cross seas and built infrastructure in the west. Others experienced the dismantling of their cultures from the viewpoint of reservations and boarding schools and the continuing genocide of tens of millions of their brethren. Some were born into ruling classes as captains of these industries. Across the face of the globe, large swaths of humanity watched their tribes and cultures and sacred landscapes cut up and renamed and turned into cities and colonies. And somewhere around 1770, sixty four great-great-great-great-grandparents carried you.

Some, many or all of the people in these varying human relationships carried the energy that forms you now. All of them live in you now as you as a gesture of your shoulders or hands, or as your smile, your creativity, your humor. Your recognition of your spirit. The tight bend or the curliness or the straightness of your hair. Your laugh. The subtle variation in your eye color.

And somewhere around five hundred and fifty years ago, you had 65,536  14th generation great grandparents. All of them carried you with the energy that drives creation.

You move back more swiftly through time now. All genders and sexual orientations were there, carrying you with them. We walk back through all of the social classes, cultures. We see some villains and cowards, some heroes and she-roes.  We walk back through all of the different cultures of origins from which our family sprang.

We don’t know their names. All of our families were there. Inventing, creating a myriad of cultures and  languages with mathematics and churchbells and drums and drumbeats, with songs and dancing. Some invented and revered rational thinking. Others were mystics. Some, keepers of the stories of the stars and constellations and the beginnings of time, others measuring the rhythms of the stars and seasons with clocks with instruments. Some living as kings or servants, storytellers and shaman, foot soldiers and leaders, wisdom holders and the knowers of the sacred ways.

Who you would be was carried by ancestors as empires rose and fell. Some ancestors followed the coastline out of the African continent to dwell in new forests over the next ridge. Some returned. Some remained to build kingdoms and queen-doms there, to have them in turn rise and fall. We walk back through the millennia and we find that there were very few of our species, sometimes down to a few thousand, all of us nomads. Walk back to a time before we invented war.

Keep walking back to our beginnings some thirty thousand generations ago. We can’t ever be sure of where we began. But, we can imagine we are in the Olduvai Gorge in East Africa, where we may have began our human journey. So here is where we’ll stop, at of this part our journeys… the journey of the human family.

We are at the edge of a forest, looking out on a savanna. Our bodies are weak compared to the cats. We have no fangs. We are tiny next to the elephants, our voices small compared to theirs. We have no fur. We stood naked. But we are clothed, like the herds in the grasses, in our precious connection to each other. Walk forward.

They journeyed, without the ability to imagine their journey or where it would end. Whether they journeyed across the grasses to other lands and continents, or whether they remained in the lush rain forests, they journeyed and accumulated gifts to give us with each generation. Hunting. Gathering.  Walking and wandering. Praying. Building rafts or ships or shoes. Or shoe-lessness. The ancestors could not help but gather every piece that we need now. Take their ability to survive and expand who they were with each generation.

Courage, wisdom, Gaia consciousnesses. Take it. We need it all. The ancestors sat across fires and discovered and nurtured and tended to the knowledge of the true nature of our existence, in a way that could not have been tended to in any other way other than across a fire in a forest. So, too another ancestor that tended fires on a savanna, or in a new land or on an island. Through the expanse of our ancestors existence they journeyed and ran up against the mystery of getting lost and finding home, of discovering the universe and themselves over and over, and stumbling upon the uncountable, unfathomable natures that we each encompass. Take this all.

Take physical endurance. Take the gifts of the leaders and the scouts, the climbers and hunters and the ones who knew which game to stalk. Take the wisdom of the leaders who divined which mountain to follow, which river to cross, who learned secrets of every landscape and forest, and the ancestors who had the gift of learning and keeping the wisdom of a single plant.

Take the curiosity and courage of the explorers. Take the courage of the ancestors who believed in dragons and went into the unknown anyway, and the intrepid nature of the ancestors who learned to slay the dragons of their minds. Take these gifts.

Walk forward and take these discoveries with you. You come from a  unbroken line of survivors, and at this point in time the only purpose for their existence is for you to have all that you need for your time now. Open your arms and hands to receive these gifts and gather them in.

Take the ancestor’s need for empathy to survive. Take that gift of experiencing kindred’s pain as our pain, and take that resulting compassion that has been a gift of survival that was placed in their hearts and in their marrow since our species learned to walk. Take this gift that the ancestors developed and strengthened during their journey. Take this empathy that maintains our connection to life, that has the power to banish loneliness or sense of separation, potent enough to dispel any apathy or cynicism that the world could foster. This deep drink that quenches so much has been our ancestors recompense for being cold and naked and weak. Take it and press it in your heart and know that it keeps well there forever. Find it again and again. Practice finding it with everyone and everything.

As the ancestors journeyed through time, they gained the ability reflect upon their own existence and all of existence. Take that precious courage to have curiosity and wonder.

As the ancestors journeyed on through time, they found that they were held by Gaia, and it the dark nights of the soul, and they learned to not just know, but to know that they knew. Take this learning that outlives our fears and pain.

The ancestors also discovered how they were guided by a wisdom that also guides the seasons and the earth, and by watching the dance of birth and decay and the dance of the heavens, they saw this process of life and learned that this processes is innate to all of existence, beating their hearts and knowing their every eyelash. Take this awareness of the process that drives the molecules and atoms in relationships, and take the awareness of energies of existence and keep its guidance with you.

Receive the ingenuity of your ancestors, making tools, knowing how a baby lies in her mother by the touch of a hand, making instruments for every ritual and part of life. Carving jewelry and creating beauty in cave walls and church ceilings and ceremonial garments and body adornments.

Take shared intelligence that sustained Gaia, this intelligence that told some of the ancestors to stay nomadic and keep those ways, and some of us to encourage a forest to grow food for us and maintain its ecosystem, others to traverse the earth.

Some ancestors settled and farmed the alluvial valleys. They have gifts for us. They grew surplus grain and built temples and settlements. Some owned land and built walls. Some of us have ancestors who were slaves and some of us have those who were slave owners, and some of us have both as ancestors. They are in all of us now, and it is up to us to use what we have learned as gifts. Gifts of endurance, responsibility, sorrow, compassion for our human frailties, humility in the presence of the stretch of time, and the gift of the view of hindsight. Take these gifts. We do not have the luxury of turning away from any of them.

We are moving into a time of many different tribes and cultures having the awareness of many other cultures of the world at once, while at the same time, the many cultures of humanity are dying in order  to make way to a culture of consumerism. Take back the gifts that your ancestors that took a millennia to grow, the gift of your family’s lost cultures by deepening into, or rediscovering the gifts of your ancestor’s cultures, and preserving it. Let it heal you and fill you up. They grew it for you.  We were all indigenous to a place not so long ago. Your culture took millions of years to grow itself into the medicine that you may not realize you are longing for until you taste it. Harvest it now.

Honor the ancestors who fought for the rights of vanishing or oppressed peoples and their cultures by taking their gifts of strength to oppose the power of the state and status quo, take the gifts of those who risked isolation, being outcast, the loss of their freedom, their lives. Take their strength of commitment in their beliefs.

Take the gifts of the ancestors who fought for their own liberation under the rule of any dominant culture who wanted what they had, who wanted their land or their bodies. Take the gifts of the ancestors who died for the freedom of their people. For you. Take the gifts of the ancestors who died for worshiping the wrong god or being of the wrong tribe. Then, take the gifts of the ancestor who refused to die of starvation, or mustard gas, or napalm. Takes the gifts of the ancestors from the dominant culture whose knew that something was wrong with what they were being told and fought for the rights of their oppressed neighbors in their own cities and towns, the village next to theirs or across the world. Take if all.

You are well into the twentieth century, and moving into the twenty-first, centuries of man-made mass extinction. Mass extinctions of animals, the calculated extinction of humans lives on mass scales, the destruction of biospheres. An age of of weapons of world wars to preceded the next age, that age of drone wars and collateral damage, the age of surgical attacks which call for the killing many times more people than the intended target, an age of a culture of mass consumption of the earth’s resources, a human culture at war with its own survival. Take the gifts of this age, the gift of your expanded awareness and your rapid evolution into a being which has a global heartbeat, a global conscience. Bow to this gift that came at such an awful cost.  Take the gift.

Take the gift of your parent’s lives, who made this moment possible. Thank your ancestors, who have given you all that you need to be here, right where you are supposed to be, with everything you need.

Take the gift of your life. Please take the gift of all of the pain and suffering you have experienced. It has expanded who you are, so that you are strong enough to hold the suffering of the world with compassion. Whatever you have come through, it forms who you are now. You, standing here. All of us, having all of the resources we need to stand here today. Each one of us, for an unequaled, vital reason. I stand by this.


Ann Marie Davis, whose pen name is A.M. Davis, was born and raised in Oakland, California. She is storyteller/poet, a speaker on behalf of the Earth. In 2007, she walked away from her job to devote her life to her creativity. Upon attending a silent meditation retreat, she found space of time in her racing mind, and discovered that she was not her thoughts. This led to daily meditation, retreats, and becoming part of the East Bay Meditation Center community. She recently discovered the Joanna Macy’s work, and the trajectory of her life finally made sense. You can find more of her work at annmariedavis.com.
https://www.paypal.me/hazeloutlaw